Tag Archives: Chinese new year

Pre-CNY To-Do List

Every year before the Spring Festival there are a couple of tasks that need to be completed. Here are the three main things we have to do before returning to Mr Li’s hometown. 

Buy new clothes 
It is a fairly typical CNY tradition to start out the new year with new clothes to mark the new beginning. In the past, as China was not yet as economically developed as it is now, this would be the only time of the year that children got new clothes and so in the past it was incredibly exciting and meaningful. As consumerism has taken hold and incomes have increased buying clothes is no longer just a once per year activity and so it’s completely lost its excitement. I did buy two new winter qipaos, however delivery was slowed down and so by the time I got them all the tailors in the area had already shut down for CNY, and of course with my pear-shaped figure they look more like lumpy sacks than anything else. Mr Li couldn’t even be bothered to get new clothes since there is nothing he hates more than being forced to shop for clothing. We walked into a store and within 10 minutes he was complaining that he didn’t want to buy anything after all. We will definitely be getting a scolding when we show up without new clothes for him.

Get a haircut 
It’s said that you’re not allowed to get a haircut in the first month after the new year in his family, otherwise your uncle dies. And so the night before we fly up into frosty Inner Mongolia mr li has to get a haircut, otherwise he would look like a crazy professor by the end of the month. Since we tend to not remember to get this done until the last minute by now half of Beijing’s hairdressers have closed and the other half have more than doubled their prices. Maybe we will learn next time.


Buy Famous Beijing Cakes
Beijing has a nationally famous bakery called Daoxiangcun (fragrant paddy village). They have so called Chinese cakes, which are the only Chinese bakery items I will actually happily stuff my face with. Since they are so famous, they are also the traditional gift for us to bring home to close family members since we have moved to Beijing. The photo shows their smallest size box, and because we have such exclusive tastes they are choc-full of very heavy (and therefore not inexpensive) cakes stuffed with paste made from coconut, hawthorne, winter pear, lotus seed and plum. The cakes a very carefully crafted with beautiful ornaments – my faves this year are the monkey and the rooster, marking both the year that is ending and the coming one. Because I have no discipline when it comes to cakes, it’ll be mostly me stuffing my face with these for the week to come. And then having trouble fitting in my trousers. That’s CNY for you! Happy holiday! 

Signing Off For Chinese New Year w/ a Nugget of Chinese Humour

My dear friends,

Chinese New Year has almost arrived and so before I retire into a week or two of holiday bliss, I wanted to leave you with this little New Year’s joke circulating on the internet:

Our neighbour, Mr Wang, met a girl online and kept happily chatting with her for a few days. All of a sudden, she suggested he go over to hers. “What if your husband suddenly comes back?”, he asked her. She said: “Not a problem, he usually doesn’t come back unannounced. And if he does, we will just say I called you in to clean the windows*. Chinese New Year is approaching after all! He won’t suspect a thing.”

So he went. But only minutes after he arrived, the husband returned, and so Mr Wang did pretend to be the window cleaner. He spent the whole afternoon wiping the windows down. On his way home, the realisation started to dawn on him, that something about this whole encounter wasn’t quite right…that’s city life for you. CNY is approaching, watch out you won’t be called in to clean someone else’s windows.

In case you have an urgent desire to practice Chinese, or want to pick apart my translation (I dare you, you nitpicker…JK…or am I?), here’s the original:

隔壁老王网上约了个妹纸,聊了几天相谈甚欢。突然约老王去她家,老王说那你老公突然回来咋办,她说没事,一般不会突然回来,万一要回来了你就说你是我雇来擦玻璃的,快过年了,我老公也不会怀疑。结果,在她家没呆几分钟,她老公就回来了,为了装的逼真老王擦了一下午玻璃。
回家的路上老王越想越不对劲…城市套路深 😀 😀 😀 快过年了,注意啊别被叫去给擦玻璃了!!!

Wouldn't want to be cleaning those windows
Wouldn’t want to be cleaning those windows

And with that, I leave you to clean your windows, buy some new clothes and stuff yourselves with dumplings, fish or whichever CNY foods land on your strained table. I won’t be posting much on OCW in the coming week or two (depending how busy and/or inspiring the New Year proves), but my interview with Mr Li (in which he reveals that he almost died a few times during CNY) did recently get published on beijingKids; and there are two posts, I contributed to, scheduled to go up on WWAM BAM! In the coming days. So watch those spaces, rather than this one, if you are keen to read my musings, which I’m certain you cannot live without 😉 Yeah, modesty, it’s my strong suit.

I wish you all a very happy Chinese New Year and I’ll be seeing you all again in the Year of the Rooster (or rather Cock as some colleagues proclaimed…naughty!)

万事如意,新年快乐and a hearty恭喜发财!

Laura

 

*In Chinese tradition, there will be a spring clean before the Spring Festival, which must include wiping down the windows, a tradition I certainly observe very closely *coughcough*

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.

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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!

An Ode to Inner Mongolia

As the Chinese New Year approaches fast, so does my typically longest visit of the year to Mr Li’s hometown, Hohhot in Inner Mongolia. Since the beginning of time, there’s been a bit of animosity between the two of us caused by our differing perceptions and opinions of the place. I, as a person who enjoys tropical weather, humidity, multicultural society and distinct architecture, have had quite a hard time embracing this city that is characterized by a desert-induced dryness that will make the skin peel off your hands (true fact), -20 C° degree winters, and fairly homogenous, Han style construction with hardly more than 10 buildings to be found in a city of  that have any kind of architecturally distinct or fascinating character; and that in a city of over 2.8 million people. I realize it’s a tad snobbish to reject a city based on it’s architecture, but to me buildings have always been a major part in creating the feel of a city, and when you’ve lived in cities like Vienna, London or Nanjing, I guess your expectations as to architecture tend to be a little bit on the high side.

Anyway, because Mr Li has this base urge to spend every CNY back home in Hohhot (though partly I cannot blame him, seen as ticket and hotel prices are horrendous at this particular time of year), he has been trying very hard to show me that there are also some pretty fun things about his place of birth. And I have to admit that through his efforts, the city has been slowly growing on me. Not so much, I’d ever consider living there, I grant you, but we do manage to have a good time.

So, I thought it was time for me to admit to some of the cool aspects about Hohhot. Enjoy!

Number One: Food in Inner Mongolia is Da Bomb

Vegetarians, you’re going to want to run for cover. But for meat-eaters with a preference for lamb, ohhh, you’re in for a treat. My personal fave are Chinese dumplings filled with lamb and carrot, a CNY treat that I could gorge myself on until I keel over.

The other massive favourite is Huicai, which I reckon you’d best compare to a stew. Just a few minuted walk from Mr Li is his local Huicai joint, where they stew green beans, tofu, potato and fentiao (thick glass noodles made from potato starch) into carb-overloaded, mushy goodness, of course with a bit of pork for flavouring – sorry, vegetarians, you really will struggle to find anything edible on the local menu.

 

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Lamb Dumplings yumm, yumm, yumm
Super Fun Inner Mongolian-Western Fusion Restaurant

While I might have turned my nose up at Hohhot for its lack of international cultural in the past, it has started to cultivate a more global restaurant scene. One of my personal faves, introduced by Mr Li’s cousin, a young, vivacious girl who knows all the best haunts, is a Mongolian-Western fusion restaurant. I never imagined myself slurping some Spaghetti Carbonara and then turning to a huge pile of stewed Sauerkraut, beans and tofu to wash it down. It totally works and has become one of my must-visits whenever I’m up there!

Number Two: Watching the Fireworks from our Balcony

Beijing has banned fireworks due to such minor considerations as, you know, environment 😉 But out in Inner Mongolia, the Wild, Wild North of China, try as you might, people will turn Chinese New Year into a festival of fireworks. When the clock strikes 12 on New Year’s Eve the racket starts and usually I will be standing on the balcony of my MIL’s flat on the 11th floor enjoying the view of fireworks everywhere. Most year’s Mr Li will have already passed out by this point, which has been a major irritation, let’s see if I can keep him awake this time around. Might have to give him some coding exercise – that’ll keep him awake till 3am.

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Spring Festival Fireworks as viewed from the balcony – love it!
Number Three: Inner Mongolia, A Great Place for Winter Sports

To me the major advantage of snot-freezing temperatures are the accompanying winter sports. As a former ice skater, going to the local park for a spin on the lake is a must. Ironically, I had never skated on a lake before coming to Inner Mongolia, only ever on man-made rinks. I love being outdoors without a roof above my head and some, albeit leafless, trees framing my view.

Look at meeeeeeeee
Look at meeeeeeeee
As I mentioned in the year-end review, IM is also the place where I learnt to ski for the first time. While it doesn’t necessarily house Swiss Alp style slopes, for an absolute beginner the man-made slopes are a very good place to wet your feet, or rather your backside when you tumble.

Number Four: Inexpensive Entertainment

Once you dig deeper, Hohhot actually has quite a lot of fun things to do. Such as pleasantly affordable Laser Tag, such fun, and a “cinema” that has private rooms for groups of around five people and uses streaming services, the legality of which I have decided not to think too much about. It’s a comfy fun way to relax on an afternoon.

Number Five: The Air, the Air, the Air. Did I mention the AIR?

Oh, yes, Hohhot’s number one selling point still is the air. While in recent years, pollution has slowly been starting to take hold, overall Hohhot, whose name in Mongolian means Blue City, is much better off air-wise than the capital of recurring airpocalypse, Beijing. This means that every visit is a much needed opportunity for your lungs to get some rest.

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Would you look at that AIR – Blue City, indeed!
Number Six: THE Blind Massage Parlour to END ALL BMPs

As a victim of desk jobs and terrible, terrible posture, I am one of those people whose neck and shoulders tend to be as a hard as brick. Seriously, you could injure your head should you for some weird reason smash it into my upper back. As locals, of course, Mr Li and his mother know exactly where the best massage parlours are, and so I was introduced to my favourite – back-crushing central. Yes, I will have bruises and feel tender for days to come post-massage, but I love it. Sadly, they usually aren’t open for CNY, and even more devastatingly I’ve heard rumours they’ve entirely shut down. But they’ll always be in my heart…and knotted shoulders.

Number Seven: Some Seriously Cool Local Architecture

Once I got over myself, I found that there’s actually quite a few interesting buildings to be discovered in Hohhot, a pagoda here, a temple there, but most interestingly the Hui Muslim district, which has a beautiful mosque and some very interesting architecture reminiscent of Arabic countries. Last time around, we even discovered a Christian church! And all it took, was for me to just get off my high horse and open my eyes.

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Hohhot’s Stunning Mosque ❤
And there you have it, my Ode to Inner Mongolia in seven neatly packaged reasons. Wishing you all a very happy Chinese New Year of the Rooster! Where will you be spending yours?

 

 

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?

New Year, Old Superstitions

Happy Year of the Monkey! If you were in China these past few days it was impossible to miss the celebrations that shook the nation – according to the Chinese lunisolar calendar, the eve of the 7th February marked the end of the Year of the Sheep and the arrival of the Monkey. 

Comparable in its cultural importance with Christmas and New Year’s eve, for those of us with Chinese spouses this is the time of year we are dragged back to their respective hometowns (in some cases more willingly than others). While it is becoming more and more common for young Chinese to spend the one week they get off work traveling the country, for Mr. Li there is only one possible destination at this time of year; Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, or as my colleague has aptly named it “Jewel of the North”. For me it is the time of year to mentally kick myself in the ladyballs that I chose a husband from Inner Mongolia, where winter regularly reaches -20 degrees Celsius. In the weeks running up to CNY I often find myself daydreaming about what the holidays would be like had my prospective husband been a native of Shenzhen, Sanya or Xiamen. Love withstands all…except icicles dangling from your nose. As it were though, my Shenzhenian prince never showed up. In his place came Mr. Li, the broad-shouldered, big-nosed King of Hohhot, to whisk me away to the country of lamb and sauerkraut (just one of the strange things Inner Mongolia and Germany have in common).

 

Yesterday saw the coming to a close of two weeks of partying and fireworks and food, food, food with the Lantern Festival, the final event of the season. By now enough time has passed for me to recover not only from the festivities but the renewed culture shock I experience each time I visit my husband’s hometown. Chinese New Year is truly the biggest test for any Sino-Western relationship; CNY is in effect a fatal dose of cultural difference shaking one’s weird Western ideas of how the world works. If you do manage to get through a week of eating till your buttons burst, Chinese relatives and enough superstitions and rules to last you a lifetime, you can be fairly certain nothing will break you up! Unless your partner does not share your love of cheese, that might just be a deal breaker. 

 

In any event, CNY will always give us bloggers lots to talk about; and to start off my three-part series of post-CNY musings I would like to return to the topic of superstition. Though I have written about superstition at length during our wedding prep, to think you have seen or heard it all would be ludicrously naïve. You know it’s bad when not even Xi Dada, the purger of all things corrupt and extravagant cannot, despite his best efforts, eradicate the deep-rooted beliefs in the supernatural so engrained within many people in this country. 

 

Hohhot, being a third tier city, has a level of superstition probably corresponding very well with its status as a city; there are a lot more reasonable assumptions about how the world works than in a small village in some far off province where the iPhone is a mythical creature but to suggest the city is on par with Beijing or Shanghai in terms of modern mindedness is a bit of a stretch, to put it as mildly as the local climate.

 

Note that traditions and beliefs vary according to province and even among different cities, so this is mainly representative of Hohhot, Inner Mongolia. 
There are countless superstitions that you need to follow in daily life and especially during the holidays, and in many cases no one really knows why; it’s just the way it is and the way it has been for as long as anyone cares to remember.

 

The most common tradition is burning paper money for the dead during CNY (and tomb-sweeping day) to make sure they live well in the afterlife and don’t come back to haunt you. Paper money in modern times can take any type of shape of form, I remember news reports in 2013 announcing the paper iPhone 5 was the latest must-have in the paper burning community. Walking the streets of the Ho (so naughty) the second day of the New Year, I found circles painted with chalk everywhere on the streets. These were areas reserved by family members of deceased, who had burned their paper here and marked their territory; meaning one is not allowed to stand inside the rings on purpose. Luckily I resisted the urge to jump from one ring to the next like we used to do as kids. That might have been awkward. 

 

Another rule that also seems to be more widespread, not just limited to Hohhot, is that if a family member dies, for the next three years you are not allowed to set off any fireworks. No one could really tell me exactly why; maybe as a sign of respect to the dead person, because being happy and forgetting about them would be bad. On the other hand, it might just be a practical way of limiting the use of fireworks and the unpleasant aftereffects of eye-watering, lung-singeing smog.

 

The superstition that upset me personally again relates to death; if a person is close to death many people might not go and visit said person for fear of “catching their ghost”, such is the case with Mr. Li’s paternal grandmother and her husband. The 80-year old man fell a few months ago and has since been taken care of by his daughter (from another marriage), while his wife of 30 or so years has not and probably won’t see him ever again. She also told us to stay away, since ghosts apparently love to attach themselves to young freshly married couples. The fear of ghosts is in fact so strong that commonly pregnant women are not allowed to attend funerals, not even if it was their own parent who had passed, since the fetus is deemed particularly vulnerable. 

 

If a close relative does die, you also need to express your grief for 100 days, during which among other things you are not allowed to cut your hair, put up couplets, that are usually stuck to doors for luck, or wear red. The dead person may also not wear red according to some beliefs, otherwise they will…you can probably guess by now…turn into a ghost and haunt you.

 

Well, these are all fairly depressing instances, so let’s finish off with a quirkier one, or we might end up jumping on the next plane back. During the month after CNY called 正月 you are not allowed to cut your hair because of the famous saying “正月剪头发会死舅舅 – if you cut your hair in the first month of the year, your uncle dies”. Naturally. So much for non-death related superstitions…

 

The Dates (Part 2) – The Registry Date

So, when we set out on this adventure almost six months ago (oh my, has it been that long?!), we were looking at having to choose three different dates in relation to our wedding:
The registry date
The Chinese wedding celebration
The German celebration

After quite a bit of kerfuffle around when we cannot set any of these dates due to Chinese superstition, we have now finally decided upon as many of the dates as is realistically possible.

Hong Kong island
But let’s start with the one date that is still eluding me; ironically the closest date of them all – the registry date in Inner Mongolia. As I explained previously the legal side of getting married and the party/show are two separate things, with the registering usually happening about half a year prior to the party. I had originally intended for us to get married just before Chinese New Year, so mid-February, mainly out of practicality, since I was expecting to spend the holiday back in Hohhot anyway, as is tradition. However, because my future mother-in-law is a seriously cool person/passionate world-explorer, she decided that we should go traveling after all and to a warmer climate at that.

This was rather a funny story in itself. About four months ago I started bugging Mr. Li that I wanted to go travel during CNY because you don’t often get off an entire week in China and I wanted to escape the cold (also, during the other big week off – national holiday, we only stayed in Beijing for the entire week for due to exhaustion from being such busy people but more importantly since the entire country goes traveling around this time. 1.5 billion people (currently still 1.49, but expected to hit the big 5 sometime this year) traveling through the country at the same time; well you can imagine how inviting that thought is.

Since Mr.Li wanted to spend the holiday with his family (or rather most importantly his mother), when she agreed to go travel initially I couldn’t believe it – this was actually happening. I might get to spend my holiday at a warm beach in the South rather than freezing my backside off at -20 degrees in Inner Mongolia (I ask myself to this day why I didn’t pick a Southerner, the climate is so much better down there…JK, or am I?).

Then, as is so often the case in China, the plan changed. For reasons I can only speculate about due to the Chinese habit of never telling you exactly what is going on in their heads, my future MIL decided she was going to stay at home in Inner Mongolia. But she wanted us to go out on our own anyway.

Based on the original wedding plan, I suggested to Mr. Li that we spend about 6 days in Inner Mongolia including the first two, and hence most important, days of CNY and then go traveling for another 5, to which he initially agreed. Until about a month ago when he told me that he would rather spend the entire time in Hohhot, because for CNY he felt it was weird to go out traveling. With a bit of begging, eye-batting and promises of skiing, skating on lakes and swimming he finally had me convinced to spend the holiday in Hohhot.

However, he had not reckoned with his mother! Because she is going to be rather busy at work in the coming year, this is the last opportunity for her to travel with us in a while, and so she decided that she did not want to pass up this opportunity after all. And so I spent two days speed-planning a trip to Shenzhen, Hong Kong and Macao – since any other flights at this time of year are ludicrously overpriced. After all, these three places put together have everything the two of us could want – heat and beaches for me, shopping for her.

But Mr. Li was not giving up that easily. He tried pleading with her as he had with me.

“Mum, I don’t want to spend the holiday traveling. Why can’t we just stay at home?”

Yet, as I said, he had not reckoned with his mother.

“You can stay at home doing nothing, my son, that’s no problem. But me and Laura are going out to explore the world!”

Cool mother-in-law.

What I forgot at the time was that as mainland residents, they both need visa-like permits to go to Hong Kong due to its history as a British colony and the lasting after-effects of this. Even less so did I realise that it is not possible for a Chinese person from Hohhot to apply for this visa in Beijing due to the insufferable Hukou system, and so Mr. Li had to fly back home to Inner Mongolia for an extended weekend to apply for his permit, bless the poor guy. I did end up feeling a bit sorry for him at this point. Though not enough to forget about the trip. I’ll make such a good wife.

So, long story short, the plans of getting married pre-New Year were off. However, I have to say that this was not really down to our frivolous desires of traveling but more owed to the fact that the only thing more insufferable than the Chinese Hukou is the bureaucracy involved in a German-Chinese marriage. We have been trying for half a year to get the documents sorted with countless setbacks and at this point our decision with regards to the date is: if we ever manage to get the bloody documents together, we will take the next flight out to Hohhot and get this over with. Romantic, I know.