Happy Chinese New Year


Once again it’s time for a brand new year, the year of the monkey. This past year has been especially exciting for us as we welcomed our baby girl and we can’t wait to see what monkey has in store for us! I’ll be sharing photos when all the festivities are over, right now we are planning to have a late night snack, exchange lucky money and put out small fire crackers.

Happy Chinese New Year to all readers!

p.s. Unfortunately because of our slow internet connection, I wasn’t yet able to upload the video to YouTube.


Out and about with a baby


Staying at home day in day out isn’t really my thing, not even with a small baby. Even though I didn’t do the Chinese postpartum zuo yuezi, I still got bored of being at home as I was used to go around the city teaching my students. But how to go out and take your baby and all essential items with you?

In China, at least in Guangzhou, a stroller isn’t really the most convenient means of baby transport. Many metro stations aren’t really designed for baby wagons and busses are mostly impossible to get on with a stroller. Luckily I found a great and cheap answer to this problem in the form of a baby sling or baby wrap which you can see in the photo above.

A sling can be used from newborn to toddlers (depending on the sling material etc) and it leaves your hands free no matter if at home or outside. Luckily my baby has been happy with traveling in the safety of the sling, always next to me and hearing my heartbeat.

Going out with my baby here in Guangzhou has been easier than I thought. Anna gets lots of admiring glances and people are quite surprised to see that even a small baby can be carried this way. I have heard many discussions about carrying a baby while I’ve walked around the city, almost all in a very positive tone. The things people are worried about is if the baby is able to breathe freely and if the sling protects the neck well. I’ve been happy to tell that sling is a great way to carry a baby, much better than carrying in your hands.

With a small baby I’ve also encountered the need to feed my baby whenever and where ever she gets hungry. I’ve seen news about breastfeeding in China, both positive and negative comments have followed. I’m happy to notice that so far I haven’t gotten any negative comments about breastfeeding in public. I do try to feed my baby without bothering others and often people around me don’t even realize I’m breastfeeding.

In public transport I’m always given a seat when I’m carrying Anna. People have been jumping up from their seats to give me a seat. Occasionally I’ve noticed bus drivers to wait until I’m seated to continue the journey, making it thus safer for me and my baby.

So far I’ve been very happy to take Anna with me here in Guangzhou and hope that this way she will get used to going out with me. Actually I’ve noticed that on our days outside she sleeps so much better in the sling and loves exploring the view with her eyes.


Zuo yuezi – Chinese postpartum traditions


“While sitting the month you can’t be too active, you should lay on the bed and rest, you can’t take a shower, wash your hair or eat fruit…”

Yesterday I went to the park with our baby and my mother-in-law who was taking care of my nephew, her grandson. We had a lovely walk around the small pond, but then we got to the play ground where my nephew likes to look at other kids playing. He’s not even 6 months yet, so he can’t really join yet.

Lot of the mother’s and grandparents there know my mother-in-law and quickly came to talk with us. When they saw me and my two-week old baby girl in the sling, they asked were almost terrified on how I could take her out before she is one month old!

In China there is a tradition of zuo yuezi aka sitting the month, where the new mom stays at home for one month with the baby, and doesn’t go out at all. The rules and special diet to follow during this month varies from province to province. What the other mothers were the most shocked about were how I could take my baby out when she is too little and how I wasn’t wearing enough clothes.

The Chinese believe that everything you do during the first month affects your health for the rest of your life. Go to bed without drying your hair gets you headache when you’re old. Wearing too little hurts your bones in the old age. Drinking anything cold is of course out of the picture too. In more traditional families even taking a shower might still be prohibited and you need to be covered in thick clothing from head to toes. Eating a lot of chicken and drinking special soups is a must as well.

I briefly explained to the mothers that we don’t do “sitting the month” in the West and in Finland we can take our newborns out the very first day we get out from the hospital if it’s Summer. During the Winter it’s advised to wait a bit and perhaps stay at home if it’s colder than -10 Celsius. But this is Guangzhou and the weather has been around 28 Celsius degrees the whole two weeks I’ve been at home with the baby.

So am I doing the “zuo yuezi”? No, I wouldn’t say so and I don’t have the need to label this time either. I’m just simply doing what I think is best. At first I needed a lot of help from my mother-in-law and my sister-in-law because I had a C-section and the scar kept me from moving freely. My husband also only had seven days total off from work.

But now that I’m pretty much back to normal, of course still being careful, I can handle my self and the baby on my own. It feels good to be able to do things my self again! My mother-in-law keeps helping us with cooking, cleaning and giving a bath to our baby girl, while also helping out with her daughter and grandson!

Now that the first half of my first month after giving birth is over, I have to admit that I would go a bit nuts if I needed to follow the Chinese postpartum traditions to the letter. I’m feeling much better when I can go outside for a walk and do other things than laying in bed or on the sofa. Luckily my mother-in-law isn’t too strict with these and understands that I do things my own way.

Have you followed the “zuo yuezi” traditions or what kind of special traditions women have in your country? I’d love to hear in the comments!


May I introduce…


Today I want to introduce you to someone special, someone who has totally taken our hearts and made us fall in love with her. May I introduce our precious baby Anna!

She was born two weeks ago and there are many stories and blog posts to be told about how it’s like to give birth in a public Chinese hospital. What kind of posts would you like to read about being pregnant and giving birth in China?

As a funny anecdote I need to mention that where I’m comfortable talking to our baby girl in Finnish, my husband still feels weird speaking Cantonese and has been mainly using Mandarin with her. Do you have a bilingual or multilingual family? How did you solve the language issue?


How to pass HSK level 1


HSK is the official Chinese Proficiency Test that is a great way to set goals or check your Chinese level. Sometimes having a clear goal in form of a test gets you more motivated to hit those flashcards or strike up conversations with the local Chinese. Taking HSK1 is the first step on your ladder.

Just remember that you don’t study Chinese for the HSK, but use it as a tool instead. Don’t start learning Chinese by buying a HSK prep book, but try the HSK after you have studied Chinese for some time and want to see how you’re doing.

HSK1 has two parts: listening and reading. The level is suitable for those students who have learned around 150 words and basic grammar patterns. If you are studying Chinese part-time one to two hours per week, you can usually pass HSK level 1 in half a year or so.

How to pass HSK1

1) Learn the vocabulary.

As you have been studying basic Chinese at your course or with a private teacher, you have probably learned most of the basic words that will come up in HSK1. Now it’s time to review those and fill in the blanks that you might have!

The best flash card system for Chinese is Skritter that works on your laptop or on your tablet or smart phone. I started using Skritter more than five years ago and have passed many tests because of it. Skritter is also my blog’s affiliate partner. You can try it our for free and see if it’s the best choice for you too.

2) Practice your listening skills

Listening comprehension is perhaps the most important skill in a foreign language and the best way to train any skill is to do more of it! You’ve probably been listening to the dialogues in your textbook, but that becomes boring quite quickly.

Where to find more interesting materials to listen then? Podcasts like ChinesePod are good resources for all levels. For HSK level 1 check out their newbie and elementary levels. On ChinesePod, with a code “SARAJ”, you can get 20% off a premium annual plan here.

3) Do mock tests

Getting used to the test format is also important with HSK and that is easy to do with mock tests. Do an online mock test of the reading section here on the official HSK website or download paper tests. You can also buy mock exams on Amazon.

Always do a mock test with the actual time limit so see how you would do in the real test situation. Find out with a tutor why you made mistakes and practice the section more which is the weaker one for you.

4) Read short stories

A great way to review vocabulary, grammar patterns and general comprehension is to read in Chinese. These days lots of graded readers are available for different levels. For HSK level 1 I recommend the I begin to learn Chinese by Confucius Institute which contains short stories and exercises.

With these four steps I’m sure you can ace your HSK1 exam! Just remember that passing an exam shouldn’t be your sole reason to learn Chinese, but a tool that helps you to set countable goals and make you even more motivated to master Chinese step by step.