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2016 Review – Weddings, Traveling & Moving

So, as the last couple of weeks of this crazy year are whizzing past, I figured it was time to take stock in my annual review.

Let’s start with the not so pleasing aspects of this year.

Blogging

Not very content with my blogging this year. Couldn’t say why exactly but I have been much less active and need and want to get back on track. There are a few new projects in the works for 2017, so I’m hoping to write and create much more content in the coming year.

Losing Stuff

I have to say 2016 has been absolute horror for my personal possessions. I am a clumsy person in general but never ever have I lost items on the scale that I have this past year. I am very much considering getting my head checked since I have been losing items literally every single week, from my metro card, which was linked to a public bike account, and caused a lot of hassle, to quite a few personal items of mine that I am still upset about and haven’t been able to admit to the people involved. I won’t recount here which they were because a) too painful and b) too embarrassing. Getting my scatter brain under control is a major project for next year.

So let’s move on to the more pleasurable parts of 2016.

First Time Skiing

Yes, CNY of 2016 has been the first time in my life that I went skiing. The same goes for Mr Li. And that from a former ice skater, I hang my head in shame, and secretly kick myself for waiting this long to try it. It. Is. So. Much. Fun. Even Mr Li, who is seldom over enthused with anything besides computer code (yepp, I’m an IT widow), couldn’t get enough.

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Look at meeeeeeeee

Weekly WWAM Lunch

Following on from a few fun group activities with WWAMs (AMWF) in Beijing, I met two great women who incidentally work in the same area as me. As a result we started a weekly lunch routine, which has become the highlight of most of my weeks, especially the more arduous ones. Thanks to you two ladies for constantly putting up with my big gob.

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Yumm

German Wedding 

I need to say a massive, massive thank you to my awesome mummy, who single handedly organized the German wedding, including email instructions that could have been a strategic army action plan. All I had to do for my wedding really was pick a location, a colour, the food (most important of all!!) and show up. I’m so glad we had the German wedding since it was an opportunity to show Mr Li (and MIL) what a real Western wedding looks like. It was small and I loved every second! Big fat fank you mum for organizing my favourite day of 2016! And of course huge thanks to all the friends and family who made the trek into the hidden depths of the Black Forest to be with us on this occasion!

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Ever the elegant munchkin bride
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There’s a story behind the shoes…I’ll tell it someday.

More Work Travel

I definitely traveled more for work as the year progressed and got to go to some pretty cool places such as the Tibetan plateau of Sichuan, as well as a short trip back to Nanjing. I got to work on some amazing topics from China’s space programme to marriage pressure and pandas. It’s not always easy, but at the end of the day I’m so grateful for the people I get to meet and the places I get to see.

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Fresh air in Sichuan

Xiamen Trip

FINALLY, after 4.5 years of begging and moaning and complaining I managed to drag Mr Li to Xiamen, my absolute favourite city in all of China. I am happy to report that at least on the topic of this beautiful island we agree – it’s the best place ever!

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Can I move here please?

New flat

Oh yes, one of the big changes this year was our move from the Northern part of Beijing to a slightly more Southern area. It was bitter sweet since I had to say good bye to our cat army, a group of wild cats who moved into our garden as we started feeding them and soon multiplied to about 10 little rascals. Just staring at them eat was such a stress reliever and it broke my heart to leave them. Only binge cat-watching on Insta keeps me sane now. But we exchanged our over priced slightly tuhao (garishly luxurious) but tiny flat in the north to a two bedroom in an older compound down south and I couldn’t be happier. Mainly because of the  walk-in wardrobe, that I now call my own.


Weddings, Weddings, Weddings

2016 truly has been a year of weddings, and funny enough majorly WWAM weddings. Three of them in total, and I loved every single one of them. Most people don’t enjoy weddings in China since it means giving Hongbao (red envelopes) and spending money, but for me there just is nothing like a good wedding. Especially cross-cultural ones, where you tend to get the best out of both worlds. They can be pretty stressful, as I found out, but they are so worth it!

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A year of cross-cultural weddings

So overall, while the world around my seems to be going to shambles, looking at this past year I think it’s been a pretty good run. How has yours been?

Wishing you a merry Christmas and a happy new year and the best of luck in 2017. I hope I’ll see you there!

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Bookworm Literary Festival 2016 Review

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

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

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

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The Future of Hong Kong

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

I award this talk five out of five Aubergines.

Read for this event: Umbrellas in Bloom by Jasong Ng

Knocked-Up Abroad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Knocked-Up Abroad gets 4 out of 5 Aubergines.

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

Goodbye 2015, Welcome 2016

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

January – March

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

Restaurant Inner Mongolia

April – June

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

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July – September

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

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

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

October – December

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

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

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

Welcome to 2016 – What does the future hold?

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

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