Tag Archives: nanjing

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!

A Fake Heart Attack,Whatsapp and a Beautiful Morning

ekg heart monitor results China

“Whoops it’s already 2am”, I thought guiltily as I hung up on my Skype call with my friends in Austria, just get ready for bed and sleep as soon as possible.

That was when it happened. The minute I adjusted my body to go to sleep, I suddenly felt a piercing pain in the vicinity of my heart, it lasted for a couple of seconds and was more intense than anything I had ever experienced. Next thing I know my left arm starts going numb. Fuck, I am having a heart attack was my instantaneous reaction. A quick googling of symptoms, nausea, yes, dizziness, yes, cold sweat, yes and I was convinced my heart was about to stop any second now.

Then came the realization of how utterly in the shits I was if I was indeed having a heart attack. I was in China, it was almost three am and I was completely on my own in my little flat. If I dropped dead now, I mused, how long would it take them to find my body? Well, if I hadn’t been entirely nauseous and about to pass out before, I surely was now.

According to the all-knowing interweb I had about an hour before it was good night world, so I had to act fast. Unsurprisingly, Mr. Li did not answer his phone in the middle of the night. Luckily, a stroke of brilliance, it was still early evening in Austria and one of my best friends’ partner is a highly qualified doctor. A quick Whatsapp message and to my utter relief they were right there, sending me replies and calming me down while still urging me to see a doctor.

Thank goodness I knew by now where to go in this situation; BenQ hospital in the South of the city, the international clinic from Taiwan with competent doctors and state-of-the-art medical equipment.

While the taxi was slowly creeping along towards my life boat, I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if I had experienced this a year ago. I had been in China for half a year already but, like many foreigners I knew, had never been to a hospital out of fear of the horror stories I had heard with regards to hygiene standards and professional competency of medical staff (I.e. Zero). I had witnessed on the few visits I had made to a Chinese hospital the nonchalance with which total strangers will stand in the door way listening to your consultation with the doctor, overhearing every single one of your symptoms and encroaching on that precious private space many Westerners are accustomed to. Rooted in collectivism and communism, when there was no private life as the state was omni-present, examples such as these still illustrate the different concepts in relation to personal space.

A traumatising experience of getting my blood drawn for the exit and entry medical exam at a literal counter, with the person next to me spurting blood from their arms like this was some king of horror movie was enough to convince me a hospital visit in China would do more harm than help.

It was only when I acted as moral and linguistic support to a friend that I discovered how good BenQ actually was; though I had heard much positive feedback, the skepticism was hard to shut down.

Mentally thanking the powers that be that I did know where to go, I walked into the emergency room. After a thorough check up including measuring pulse and heart rate plus a blood test, all of which set me back a mere ¥130 (about €10), the highly competent and sensitive doctor explained that it was probably just a nerve that had become entrapped as I was lying the wrong way on my not very comfortable mattress after a week of incredibly tense neck and shoulders.

She also inquired whether the group of “little gangsters” 小混混 had scared me off as I was waiting for the results next to her desk, because they were discrespecting me. This I found incredibly sweet of her. In actual fact I had just gone outside to ask to lie down on the ER beds for an hour’s nap from 4am to 5am, mainly because their beds were more comfortable than my own, which partly caused this mess in the first place.

Walking out of the hospital at 5.30 am I don’t think I need to describe how happy and relieved I felt. I was welcomed by the most beautiful sight I have ever seen, with Nanjing’s modern Jianye district lying in front of me, blue skies above a fresh grassy smell from the greens and the streets recently cleaned adding to the freshness, birds chirping in the trees and hardly any cars in sight. Who would have thought I would ever end up witnessing this breathtaking view of sleepy Nanjing at dawn because of a fake heart attack?

nanjing benq hospital dawn jianye district fairmont

Thank you so much to Laura and Gabsi for being there for me during what was probably the most scary moment of my life so far – in a foreign country completely on your own a medical emergency is seriously frightening. Make sure you know where to go and if possible have a safety contact at hand to let them know where you are and what is happening.