Category Archives: Feminism

Getting Through Long Distance Relationships

While I was living in Nanjing, Mr Li and I did a long-distance relationship (4 hrs on the high-speed railway) for two years. At the time, a friend asked for some advice on long-distance relationships. Now, I find myself back in one and remembered this post I wrote 2 years ago before I moved to Beijing. This was actually a great exercise for me to reflect on my own relationship. A lot of the things below we might do automatically, some others I found in my research and want to try them or do them more consciously.

Before we start, I want to say that not everyone can do a long-distance relationship, some people simply need to be in the same place as their partner, otherwise they miss them too much. In that case you should probably find a way to be together, even if it means giving up on something.

For those who can, want to or have to do it, I hope the tips below will help keep the two of you stay connected. Enjoy 😀

1. 100% Trust

The first and most important condition for any long-distance relationship is trust. When you and your partner are in different places, a lot of the time you do not know what the other person is doing, so you need to be able to believe that your partner is not messing about. If anything has ever happened in your relationship to make you suspicious of your partner, e.g. they flirted with or kissed someone else, then do not even attempt an LDR (long-distance relationship), as you will go crazy with worry and jealousy and it will most certainly end badly.

2. Build Closeness across the Distance

A big threat in LDR’s is the physical distance turning into an emotional distance. When you and your partner are far away from each other and do not share your lives, it is very easy to grow apart and fall out of love. There are a few actions you both can take to work against this happening.

2.1 Regular Communication

The absolute key is regular communication. I speak with my husband every single day multiple times, usually we video chat in the evening and during the day we send some messages via apps. Whenever anything exciting or bad happens, he is the first person I will message (or call if possible) and this way he stays involved in my life. Many LDRs I know started out fine and then suddenly communication got less and less until it was only once a week. If this is happening to you, you need to ask yourself (and your partner) if the relationship is over, as you two are obviously drifting apart.

2.2 Do Things Together Apart

The best way to keep that emotional connection is by doing things together, even if you are not in the same place. Video chat is a godsend for this. For example, you can cook together using video chat, each person making their own meal. Or you can both agree to watch your favourite TV shows at the same time. I think it is a great idea, though we have not yet done that, because it creates that normality of when you were living together.

Another great option is falling asleep together, or one of you falling asleep while the other stares at them creepily, haha. We have done this a few times and I have to say it is magical, it creates a really strong bond. Watching my husband sleep away peacefully like an innocent little baby is one of the most gratifying experiences video chat has to offer.

Finally, you can create a new bond by learning something new together, something that you can share and ideally it is connected to online. I have not done this before but I think it is a great idea and I now plan on learning Cantonese with my husband to test this out. He recently moved to Shenzhen and I have been wanting to continue my Cantonese classes for a while now. Let’s see how that goes!

3. When you Meet

Of course it goes without saying that you should meet your partner in person as often as possible within your financial possibilities. If you are in the same province you might be able to meet every two weeks, same country maybe once a month. If you are on different continents it obviously gets trickier than that. When you do meet, make sure to keep a few things in mind.

3.1 Prioritize Your Partner

Your partner has just come all the way to meet you and the two of you only have a limited amount of time together. You have to prioritise spending time with your partner over anything else. After all there is nothing more frustrating than taking a plane to see someone only to be told “Honey, I am hanging out with my friends tonight. See you later.” That might be the last time Honey comes to see you, my friend. Don’t waste people’s time like that.

3.2 Be Realistic

When you are unable to spend a lot of time together you often expect the little time you have to be super exciting and magical. Like a Disney movie. All fireworks and Happily Ever After. In reality, that is rarely the case. You are just human and very likely you will disagree on something or other. Going into these meetings with unrealistic expectations can set the bar too high and cause disappointment and unnecessary conflict.

3.3 Build Rituals

Actually, rather than planning an amazing bombastic meeting, you should be focusing on building rituals. For example, you always go to have lunch at that same restaurant the first day after you arrive in your partner’s town. This creates a routine and a feeling that you are still a “regular couple”, and gives you a sense of security and familiarity.

4. Appreciate the Advantages

I personally believe that the attitude with which you go into the LDR makes a huge difference. If all you are thinking is about how your partner is so far away and how lonely you are and how little you see each other, you will make yourself unhappy. Instead, enjoy the free time and space that you have now gained. Take up new hobbies, rediscover yourself as an individual person. Meet new people and expand your network.

By leading an independent life and becoming a more interesting person you will become even more attractive to your partner as well. After all, would you rather date the exciting person who paints or runs marathons in their free time and keeps telling you funny stories about their friends, OR the mopey, sad depressed person who sits at home just waiting for your call to tell you how unhappy they are?

5. Make Plans for the Future

Finally, while I do believe LDR’s can work with the right mind-set, they should ideally be only a temporary solution rather than a long-term situation. In order to give both of you the mental strength to pull this off, you need to have a finish line.

Make plans for the future, this will bring you closer together and show your partner that you are taking this seriously. This will also help in motivating you as it will give you a goal to work towards, e.g. if you are studying, after graduation the two of you can be together.

Most of all, stay positive and talk. Talk lots. Not just about how your day was but about thoughts, feelings, wishes for the future. I know many men are not keen on this but it is really important. Trust me.

Good luck! You can bridge the distance!


Celebrating International Women’s Day: My Role Models

Dear Readers,

Happy, happy International Women’s Day! In order to appropriately mark this day, I’ve decided to spread some girl love, or should I say woman love, by listing the women that I find most inspiring. This is by no means an exhaustive list and it changes constantly. Without much ado, here are (in no particular order) the outstanding women I look up to and who give me hope for a more equal world:

Emma Watson

She has grown from Hermione in Harry Potter to an outspoken women’s rights activist, addressing the UN and most importantly handing an epic comeback to the people trying to police her body.

Her response to the criticism of her partially exposed breasts in Vanity Fair is both eloquent and hilariously blunt at the same time.

“Feminism is about giving women choice. Feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women with. It’s about freedom. It’s about liberation. It’s about equality. I really don’t know what my tits have to do with it.”

Thanks, Emma. You rule.

Miranda Hart

Oh, where to start with Miranda Hart? She is one of the most singularly funny women I know, one of the rare, but growing breed of female comedians that are taking on this world. Her awkwardness in social situations and her struggle to fit into the narrow mold of what society considers “one of those women”, the ones with trinkets, who always know the laugh of the season and the appropriate appetizer for each social occasion is so relatable. She will have you spewing your beverage all over the room with laughter as she farts, gallops and falls off chairs. If ever you need cheering up, Miranda’s comedic talent will certainly save the day.

Carrie Gracie

If you are an avid follower of the BBC, especially with a focus on China, you would have come across Carrie Gracie. She is my favourite journalist of all time. She was out reporting on China when China wasn’t the place to be yet; in the mid-90s she does a series on White Horse Village, where the villagers are affected by urbanization. Then, last year, her documentary the Xi Factor takes on China’s Big Papa, culminating in a visit to the very same dumpling place he had blessed with his presence, where the “presidential set” fails to impress the seasoned China expert Gracie. And in her latest coup, she is attempting to untangle the web of a certain Chinese politician, his wife and the murder of a British business man in 2011. The woman is fearless. And, incidentally, also was married to a Chinese man at one point in her life if memory serves. If I ever meet her, I might end up stammering “I want to be you when I grow up.” Too weird? Yeah, I thought so.

Okay, before I run on for too long, I think I’ll have to stop here. But not before giving a shout out to a couple of other amazing women and their achievements:

Elizabeth Warren, succesful politician taking on Trump and his administration in a serious & viral way

J.K. Rowling, who gave us Harry Potter and one of the best feeds in the Twitterverse

Superwoman, a.k.a. Lilly Singh, Youtube Mega-star, bawse and girl power advocate

Oh, and one surprise woman you can find right here

And finally my Mum, tomboy in her own right, who taught me there’s no need to fit the mould

Who are your female role models? Let me know in the comments!

Happy Women’s Day 2017!



The Chinese New Year’s Office Party – Decadence, Sexism and Serious Drinking

Annual office party? Sure, that’s where you get unreasonably pissed, embarrass yourself in front of your colleagues and bosses by a) stripping to your undies (mostly men) or b) singing Karaoke really badly (all genders, especially one Bridget Jones) and generally have a fun day/night on the town sponsored by accounting. Especially in the UK, it can get pretty wild, with ample booze involved.

But nothing I ever experienced in Europe had me prepared for the crazy bonanza that is the Chinese New Year Office Party. The ones I have witnessed do, interestingly, seem to have a lot in common with a Chinese wedding. Here are a few things I learned from attending Mr Li’s company bash a few years ago and the one or other viral post that gives a rare glimpse into a world of decadence and serious sexism.

*Note that these parties are nowadays much more common in private companies; after the crackdown on corruption most state-owned companies have had to tone it down considerably and I believe many of them don’t hold any celebration anymore.

didi chuxing annual party
The annual party of taxi app Didi saw performances of major Chinese superstars; employees allegedly received up to 1000 RMB in virtual red envelopes on WeChat

The Venue

Because of the whole concept of face, you can be pretty certain that any company worth their salt is going to pull out the big guns when hosting a CNY party. It will be a five-star hotel with at least 100 tables and there will be a massive stage, if the company can afford it. The more I think about it, the more it really is very similar to a Chinese wedding extravaganza. Except with fewer flowers and random decorative elements.

At the event in question, there was even a large screen showing videos and speeches and even offering the opportunity for people to send a Wechat message that would then flash across the screen. It quickly descended into a slightly childish game of people calling each other silly names, which let’s face it, is the whole point of such a function.

CNY party screen wechat
Little Zhang loves Cherry – what else do you use a massive WeChat screen for?

The Show

Tencent got some rather embarrassing and unwanted attention after photos of their recent CNY bash were leaked showing female employees being forced to mimic blow-jobs on stage on a bottle tucked between male colleague’s nether-regions. This sounds pretty bad, and sadly, it’s not one extreme example but rather the norm. Since the CNY gala is the opportunity for Crystal in Marketing to get the big bosses’ attention, every employee will work seriously hard to put on a good show. My husband’s work group rehearsed their dance for two or three weeks, I kid you not.

However, grabbing the bosses attention as a woman in China, and the big boss almost inevitably will be male, still mostly equates to one classic mantra: sex sells. In addition, the concept of “professionalism” as it exists in the west, doesn’t really exist in China. And so Crystal will inevitably strap on her way-too-mini skirt and twerk as if her career depended on it (which it ultimately does) up on a stage in front of hundreds of employees and, yes, that big boss who might just be enchanted by her butt.

But then Cherry in Admin emerges as a dark horse and brings it home – those hours of professional dance class just for the purpose of this one moment are finally paying off.

Twerk as if your career depended on it…

The only redeeming quality that this circus of sexism had was that one of the work groups didn’t take it all quite that serious (or rather they did), and had a group of male employees run around dressed up in sexy women’s attire and twerk their way across the stage. It seemed like an ironic commentary, and so I enjoyed it. I do hope that at some point the girls will do a dance in a suit though. Gimme some of that woman power!

The Drinking

This was the most fascinating part of the evening. As with weddings, the big bosses of course had to go from table to table and cheers every single employee. For Mr Li it was an opportunity to show off his foreign wife; as the only Western person at the event, I did stick out like a sore thumb and as usual got some awkward attention. Though it did seem to help him gain some brownie points, which I guess is a good thing for him.

The junior table I was sitting at had maybe bitten off a bit more than they could chew. Or rather chugged a bit more than they could stomach. And not been eating enough of the grand banquet that was being served up. Aside from Baijiu and red wine, they had smuggled in some stronger liquor, Korean Soju if memory serves, and were egging each other on to drink as much as possible. It didn’t help, I reckon, that they were curious to see how much I could drink, and Soju and wine are my fortes. Whereas the young stallions were knocked out pretty quickly by the mixture and so, all of the sudden there were two or three young men spewing up on the carpet of this five-star hotel. That was probably the most surreal moment I have ever experienced in China, especially since no one really seemed that bothered about it.

Torn between disbelief and empathy, I felt for the young lads, since had I entered a Baijiu competition I wouldn’t have made it very far either. Though when I ended up tipping my insides out during my last office party in the UK, at least I managed to do so outside on the pavement, rather than on the expensive carpet of an exclusive hotel.

Have you ever been to a CNY Office Party in China? What has your experience been? Wishing you a happy New Year!

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?

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”

Cologne Attacks; Chinese Pragmatism vs German Idealism

“Told you so, told you so.” That is the chorus I am hearing these days in the aftermath of the Cologne attacks. Be it online or talking to Mr. Li, to many Chinese people it seems what happened there was just a matter of time, since Germany opened its borders allowing “all kinds” of people to come in.

“It’s because we come from a developing country”, believes Mr. Li. “We know how bad people can be when they are surrounded by poverty and misery like that. You guys in Europe are so idealistic because you have such a great standard of living.”

Is it really as simple as that? Many a time in China I have found that people are much more pragmatic and the “better-you-than-me” mentality still prevails. The general lack of compassion for strangers has often been criticized with the countless cases of hit-and-run victims who did not receive help by passers-by. Yet, at the same time, arguably it is this type of thinking is result of historical factors designed to ensure self-protection and survival in a rough environment.

Maybe I am naïve and idealistic. In the end, if you have to chose between life or principles, wouldn’t it be foolish to pick the latter? Or would it be heroic?

For the first few days, the Cologne incident left me utterly speechless. I didn’t know what to think. I felt worried about the changes my home country is going through, I felt enraged that these men would even dare to act like this, on such a large scale as well, irrespective from where they are from or how they came to be in Germany.

I still believe that opening our borders was the right thing to do. I still know that I should not condemn the many for the actions of a few. Well, I guess you can’t call 1000 a few anymore can you? Luckily, the outrage expressed by Arab social media users is very helpful in putting things into perspective. But the attacks not just in Cologne, but also two other German cities on New Years have made me ponder my standpoint.

PC is over; there need to be consequences

No, I still don’t think that Merkel was wrong to save all these people, even if some of them might not have deserved it.

What I do think is that the perpetrators must feel the full force of the law. The gloves need to come off. I think it is unacceptable that the police tried to actively stop the information that there were Syrians and asylum seekers among the attackers from getting out because of the “political climate”. It’s a sad truth that needs confronting. I don’t want to hear any arguments of “cultural differences” or “lack of knowledge of local customs”. If a country gives you an inch, you don’t take its women. Germany has saved these men’s lives and this is the way its people are thanked? Talk about ungrateful.

What’s worse, two of the people arrested were found with notes that had been translated from Arabic; aside from reading “I want to have sex with you”, they also announced “I will kill you”. In what world is that a cultural difference?

These people need to be deported. There are no if’s and but’s, there is simply no discussion. Yes, their lives might be in danger if they return to the war zone, but they had their chance and they made the decision to destroy their opportunity at a peaceful life.

Of course Germany’s bureaucratic wheels, its PC-ness and its “original sin” mentality will all stand in the way of this move. I’ll say one thing; China would handle this without batting an eye.

Germany needs to stop letting historical obligation push it down like this. Any psychological debt has long been paid. Enough is enough. How can German tax payers expect to pay to put such individuals into a German prison? That is simply asking too much. And it tells other potential aggressors this: “Hey, come to Germany, they’ll save your life, let you grope their women and then put you up in a prison with three meals a day and no need to work.” It’s a land of paradise.

Angela Merkel, I think you are an amazing woman and I think you have shown much strength and compassion by opening the borders but now you also need to be strong enough to say “no”. Otherwise you make Germany look foolish and put its citizens at further risk.

No one is asking the women in Cologne

Aside from the question on what to do next, I found this article by DW very to the point. It points out how the whole debate in Germany to no one’s surprise has been focusing on the refugee crisis. What it is ignoring completely is the women who experienced these horrendous acts of aggression. At least the BBC is giving them a voice; kudos. But yes, Germany, why are you again forgetting about the actual problem of sexual assault?

Cologne mayor Reker’s comment perfectly sums up exactly what is wrong in the whole discussion of sexual violence towards women. Her suggestion of a “code of conduct” that women only travel in groups and keep an “arm’s length” from strangers was met with much ridicule but actually it is shocking that she, a woman herself, would push the responsibility to the victims and suggest they should limit themselves in their freedom. Stop the slut shaming, woman, this is the 21st century!

Here’s my code of conduct, ladies: go out, live your lives, don’t let misogynists stop you from doing anything you want to do. Oh yes, and bring pepper spray and take some kung fu classes, so you can crush their balls. I beg your pardon for the language. On second thought, I don’t.



A quick hello

Wow, I cannot believe that I wrote my last post almost a month ago – life has been indeed crazy.

Since my last day at work I have met my parents and best friends in Hohhot, somehow got through the crazy wedding/birthday party, run off for another week of traveling the country with one of my bridesmaids and best men, jetted to Shenzhen for an expo, gotten a cold after almost two weeks of severe sleep and rest deprivation and now am resting up in Beijing just to hop on a plane down to one of the most Southern tips of Yunnan in two days and do some traveling with my Mother in Law. With husband having to return to work after a week off and our Honeymoon plans postponed until my situation is more permanent, I am still making the most of my free time.

That should definitely include writing more for this blog – it is top of the to do list. And photos. Coming soon, bear with me 😉 Hugs from a pretty blue-skied Beijing!


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!