02/26/15

5 Years in China

Guangzhou by Night

About five years ago I stepped on an airplane for the very first time since I was two years old and moved to China. A Chinese phrase 回家 huíjiā came to my mind. In Chinese you can’t go home, you can only return to your home. And in a sense I was doing just that, returning back home where I had been in the safety of my mother’s belly when she was expecting me in the late 80’s in Beijing.

Recently I realized that Guangzhou has been my home the longest, if you don’t count my hometown, small city in the Southern Finland. I went to high school in an ever smaller city, after graduating I worked and studied at Tampere, the third biggest city in Finland. I stayed in Tampere for four years and still feel likes it’s the best city in the country.

But now Guangzhou has been my home longer than that, for five full years.

I was 22 years old when I came to China. Out of a long relationship that ended badly. Traveling on my own for the first time, starting this adventure in a country I always wanted to visit. In a way these years have passed by very quickly, but on the other hand it feels like I’m been here for ages. It’s a saying that there is a seven-year itch in a marriage, lets see if that includes being married to China.

During these years I’ve graduated from university, started my master’s, learned a ton of Chinese, started teaching Chinese, met the man of my dreams and married him, made new friends and lost them when they went back home, moved a few times from apartment to apartment before making home here with Alan.

Of course there have been tears and sadness inside these years as well, that’s just life, but I prefer remembering all the good things that have happened. Hope that my next five years in China will be even happier!

02/14/15

Our First Anniversary

Wedding Cake

One year ago in 14th February 2014 it was no ordinary Valentine’s Day. On that year the Chinese Lantern Festival fell on the exact same day, being held on the 15th of the first month of the lunar calendar. As Lantern Festival is also considered a Chinese Valentine’s Day, it was a double lucky day, the perfect day to register our marriage.

Even though we had our Wedding later in May both with Chinese and Finnish characteristics, we still consider the Valentine’s Day as our anniversary. Easy to remember too!

After our wedding we finally moved to our own house, the old family house, and started our life together surrounded by history and four cats. I’m probably the worst person to be given a big house to live as I’m not the housekeeping kind, but it’s been great to have a real home where you can decorate and arrange furniture just the way you like it. I hope we will have lots of happy years in this Chinese house with a lot of character.

The Autumn was so busy we barely even saw each other. I was at the university from Monday to Friday, sometimes from morning till late night. Alan was taking English lessons on the Saturdays so Sundays became our only time to relax and have fun together. Our first year as a married couple ended with our honeymoon to Malaysia, from where I will share more photos later on.

All in all it’s great to be married to a man like Alan who understands and supports you when you pursue things that are important for you. Alan is a husband who always puts his family first. The other day when I told him to always be by my side, he replied: “Of course I will always be by your side, and our kids too.”

02/1/15

Visiting Meizhou: Traditional weilongwu architecture

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When I hear the word Hakka (Han Chinese that speak Hakka Chinese) I always think of the famous tulous (土楼) I’ve always wanted to visit. But little did I know, that the Hakka people has other traditional architecture as well. January 2015 I finally had the chance to visit Meizhou, Guangdong Province, and found out that the weilongwu (围龙屋) is the traditional building for the locals. Where as in the Fujian province more tulous can be found. The name 围龙屋 literally means to encircle dragons house.

Hakka weilongwu

Above is a miniature of a three tier weilongwu. At the China Hakka Museum we were told that Hakka people pay a lot of attention to fengshui. The weilongwu is arranged as a half circle and can include from one to several tiers. The family and relatives live in the middle part of the weilongwu, leaving the half circle tiers to servers, helpers and storage space. In order to preserve symmetry, a half circle pond was dug in front  of the compound.

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The Owner of this weilongwu welcomed us with open arms and told us stories how his family had important cement from England and pipes from Germany. All around Meizhou you can see the influence of those Hakka people who moved abroad to study or work, and then contributed to the culture and business back in their home city. Those with ability to go overseas also had the most means to build weilongwu and also to preserve them until today.

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This particular weilongwu we visited on our fist day is called Tong Yu Zhuang or Tong Yu Manor. It was build by an Indonesian overseas Chinese on the 24th year of the Republic of China (1935). The manor has 56 rooms, 13 halls and 9 atriums. Because many weilongwus were lavishly decorated with gold, they were hit quite badly in the Cultural Revolution. A beautiful mirror was saved just because a big portrait of Mao Zedong was hanging in front of it, no one dared to touch it.

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In Meizhou I noticed one very interesting detail in the houses. Look at the picture above, can you guess what is the whole on the right side of the entrance? Yes, it’s for cats to go in and out freely!

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Atriums are an important part of architecture both in Hakka culture and beyond. They let the sun light come in and gather the rain water from the roofs.

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Weilongwu is usually build on a hill or slope, so that the back part of the complex is higher than the front. This is for both better fengshui and water flowing through the pipes from back to front as well. Behind the main buildings in the front and before the first half circle, there is an open space that represents the female womb and makes sure that the family will continue from generation to generation.

For more travel posts check out all my travel blog posts here!

01/31/15

Honeymoon in Malaysia

Honeymoon

Its been almost a year since me and Alan got legally married in Guangzhou. In China you get a short marriage holiday that you can use during the first year and we decided to save it to the last month. After our first married year together, it is now the perfect time to explore something new together. Our destination was decided in a less romantic way, choosing discounted tickets!

This is our fourth day at Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia and we’ve been loving it! Coming from a huge city like Guangzhou, it’s so refreshing to be in a small town that you can walk from one end to the another in half an hour. The airport is just 7km away and many times per day we can hear and see the planes coming and going.

It’s not a high season here at the moment and that’s even better! It’s peaceful and quiet and even the busiest beach has space for everyone to enjoy the sun and the sea. In the photo above we are watching the sun set at Tanjung Aru Beach, the colors were amazing!

One of the highlight of this honeymoon was to try scuba diving together and we enrolled to the beginner scuba diver open water course. Unfortunately I got very afraid and panicked when practicing our skills in the sea, but luckily Alan found himself a great new hobby. I already plan to take hime horse riding when we go to Finland this Summer! Its an old hobby of mine that I started in primary school. Or if we go during Winter, then it would be snowboarding!

Sun and my white skin doesn’t go together that well and even with sunscreen I managed to get burned. The perfect excuse to rest a day and chill out at the hostel Lavender Lodge where we are staying. Tomorrow new adventures awaits us!

p.s. If you want to see more photos during our honeymoon, follow my Facebook Page.

01/24/15

Being Pregnant In China (Guest Post)

Being Pregnant in China

Photos by our wedding photographer Andy He

What it’s like to be pregnant in China? No, I don’t have any big news for you, but I do have a guest post from my dear friend Ellen who gave birth to a beautiful baby girl at the end of last year. 

I’m a Russian from Estonia and my husband is a Hakka Chinese from Guangdong province, China. Through common interests we met at the university in England and fall in love. Two years later we moved to China to start the next phase of our lives. We got engaged, married and I gave birth to a child – all in one year. Since love stories are pretty much all similar, then my pregnancy was certainly something remarkable and I’d like to share this story.

To begin with, visiting hospitals in China is bizarre. The system here is that you go to a hospital in the morning, you get a queue number (if you’re lucky to fit into the quota) and then you wait. Once you see that your turn is about to come, then you start pressing yourself into the doctor’s room. The doors are open and along with you there are two-four other women standing next to you, trying to squeeze themselves onto a chair next to the doctor. One has to accept that there’s no privacy in China. Everyone gets to know your story. Furthermore: in case of visiting a women’s doctor, everyone gets to see your… you know. I haven’t allowed that! Though I have accidentally seen some.

When it comes to antenatal check-ups in China, then doctors care very little for tests. In modern practice, each antenatal check-up includes checking body weight, blood pressure, urine sample, listening to baby’s heartbeat, measuring the stomach (feeling the abdomen) and occasionally an ultrasound scan to check the baby’s growth. Moreover, at certain weeks of pregnancy the doctor will perform various screening tests. In China, all of that is done only if you require. At first, I knew very little, which tests need to be done, so I didn’t know to ask. And to be honest, I think that would be of little use since doctors only care for you if you tell them you have pains and great discomforts. Well, eventually my dear husband arranged me into a private hospital in Hong Kong, so I got proper check-ups and screening tests in my later pregnancy.

Being Pregnant in China

Moving to superstitions and rules that pregnant Chinese women have to follow.

  1. No cold food. Not only it includes ice cream, cold drinks and cold soups, but also food that carries cooling energy like watermelon, papaya, and some Chinese desserts. Cold can lead to miscarriage.
  2. No scissors on the bed. This might lead to miscarriage.
  3. No tea of any sort, no coffee, no potatoes. For me as a Westerner, that was perhaps the toughest task to give up these three things. But in the name of the baby’s health, I managed. To 90%. It is believed, that all of these contain poison for the baby (when potatoes sprout, they instantly become poisonous, did you know that?). Whenever we went to a restaurant, then waiters knew instantly what drink I should be offered: hot water.
  4. No high heels. OK, it might sound obvious that a huge belly and high heels don’t go together, but I was forbidden to wear high heels from the moment we got certain of my pregnancy. It was week 6. I found it difficult to get used to this rule as well, because I’m a person who has 20 pairs of high heel shoes and only 2 pairs of flat shoes.

The shocking part is that in China no one seems to have heard of the harm of cigarette smoke to the baby. In China, smoking is allowed everywhere. People smoke everywhere, even in the elevators. So it happened to me a couple of times that a man with a cigarette in his mouth walks into the elevator, seeing I am obviously pregnant. And then those countless cases of smoking next to me at the restaurants, in the streets.

All in all, I gave birth to my baby in Hong Kong, where doctors speak English and I received very good care. If I were to get pregnant again, then I would either go to Hong Kong again, or even better, go back to Estonia. In my opinion, it is a risk to be pregnant in China.

Stay tuned. There will be part 2: Chinese postpartum 30 days, called 坐月子 (zuo yue zi). I have to step over a fire to get home, I am not allowed to take shower, my daily diet consists of black eggs, black ginger, chicken soup and rice only.