08/4/15

A boy or a girl?

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Second hand baby clothes bought in Finland

Being pregnant is kind of strange feeling, suddenly you have someone poking around in your tummy and you love him or her even though you haven’t really even met yet. Many parents want to find out the gender of the baby before giving birth so that they could start thinking names and the baby would seem more real to them. It’s not an “it” anymore, but a she or he.

In China it’s prohibited to find out the sex of the baby on an ultrasound, because traditionally boys have been favored and girl fetuses even aborted. Xinran has written a heartbreaking book about the lost girls of China in Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother. The traditional views are slowly changing and in bigger cities families have even started to favor baby girls.

But the differences between boys and girls are still seen in my husband’s generation. He as the big brother got often treated differently from his little sister, for example more money was used to his education than to hers. In other matters it can also be seen that his parent’s generation still value the paternal family line when it comes to different assets in the family.

My husband’s sister has a cute baby boy now that the whole family adores. Against tradition her mother took care of her during the one month confinement and continues to do so during her maternity leave. People in the villages have talked how it’s “not right” that a daughter who is already married spends so much time at her parent’s house, but my in-laws enjoy having their grandson next to them. Even though in Chinese he is considered to be an “outside grandson” or 外孙。

Me and my husband think that children should be treated equally no matter the gender or if they belong to the paternal or maternal family line. I’m also more sensitive to not to limit activities or even colors based on gender. In China is much clearer that boys do boy stuff and girls do girl stuff, but I wish that our kid can choose the hobbies she likes without thinking if it’s suitable for a girl.

So yes, because of family connections in a hospital and curious family members we found out that we are most likely having a baby girl. My husband’s family has been guessing it’s a girl since I got pregnant and are very happy of the news. But of course what we hope the most is that she will be healthy.

07/24/15

Questions to consider before having a baby in China

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Speaking of China just posted a great guest post by Charlotte about the questions to discuss if you are having a baby in China and especially if you are in an international marriage. I thought it would be an interesting discussion here on my blog as well and wanted to answer to her questions my self.

1.Which maternity and postpartum customs will you follow?

Both Chinese and foreign friends have asked me if I’m going to 坐月子 zuoyuezi, meaning “to sit a month” or “postpartum confinement”. There are may rules and customs to follow in China if you sit the month, depending how traditional you or your family members are. One of the main things seem to be that you can’t go outside during that time and you need to rest as much as possible.

In Finland during the Summer you can take your baby outside right away if you protect your baby from the sun. During Winter you should take it slower and stay indoors if the temperature drops to -10 Celsius. There are no strict rules about what to eat or not like there is in China.

I think it’s best to follow your body and your instincts. I don’t have a reason to label the time after giving birth, but just do what I think will be right when the time comes.

2.Which nationality will the kids be?

We will apply for a Finnish citizenship, but because of the laws in China, in the eyes of the Chinese bureaucracy the kid will be seen as Chinese. This is a rather complicated issue and you can get a feeling of it by reading this blog post by Ember Swift.

3. Who and how will you name the baby?

We want our baby to have an international name that is easy for everyone, Finland and China, to pronounce and use. My husband’s parents said they can help us to choose the Chinese name, perhaps visiting some kind of master who can give recommendation based on when the baby is born. I’m still wondering should we follow the international first name – Chinese first name – Chinese last name method like Charlotte did with her children.

4. How many kids will we have?

We haven’t decided on a number and I think there’s no need to. What we do agree is that we don’t want to have too many kids, but at the same time would like our kid to have a sibling some day. My husband has a little sister and I have a sister and two brothers so we are both used to having siblings around.

5. Will you return to work or will one parent stay home with the child?

Because of financial and scholarship reasons, I need to continue my master’s thesis and teaching quite soon after giving birth. I’m planning to stay at home full-time from November till end of the Chinese New Year, but after that need to see how the situation looks like.

Who takes care of the baby then? This is a huge question that still doesn’t have a definite answer. Our ideas of child rearing differ from the in-laws quite a lot, so asking them to take care of the baby would probably bring way too much family drama. We are going to see if we are able to find a nanny to come to our home on those hours I need to teach.

In China mother’s usually can’t afford to stay at home long, but in Finland most will stay with the baby full-time until he or she is 9 months old. Many continue staying at home after that as well and will continue to get certain monetary help from the government. Lot of moms in Finland consider you not-s0-good-mother if you take your baby to daycare before he/she is 1-year-old, at least that’s my understanding.

6. Where will they go to school?

It’s going be yeas before we need to consider which schools to enroll them. Good international schools are very expensive in Guangzhou and out of our reach. We have been discussing moving to Finland when our kid needs to go to preschool, but nothing is set in stone as things might change as years go by.

There are tons of questions to consider before having a kid, no matter where you live. I hope that by considering these questions before hand we can be tiny bit more prepared to the huge life change in front of us. Thank you again Charlotte for the excellent guest post!

07/14/15

My husband’s first trip to Finland

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Last Sunday our exciting trip to Finland finally started! The very first time I’m taking my husband back home to show where I came from. I had a big mission for the trip and in this blog post you’ll find out how I succeeded.

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It was my husband’s first time to fly to Europe and of course the first time to sit 10 hours in a plane. Before boarding our flight we took a mandatory family picture, the very first time as well!

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Our flights with Aeroflot went very well, no one snored too loudly, the kids behaved well (waving at as for hours, but very cute) and the food was pretty good. It was a day-time flight but we managed to get an hour of sleep or so. I was very satisfied with the service at Aeroflot and when changing the plane in Moscow they even let all the families traveling with kids to go first, even us that still have their baby in the tummy.

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The first day, Monday, was spent sightseeing around my small hometown Heinola. The population is almost 20 000 and you can easily walk around where ever you need to go. For lunch my husband choose a typical Finnish Summer dish, salmon with new potatoes. Alan was very happy to eat Salmon at least three to four times during his week in Finland!

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My hometown doesn’t have too many places to see, but those include a beach, a bird zoo, water tower and just lingering around the city center. The weather for the whole week didn’t rise above 20 degrees Celsius, but during sunshine it was warm enough.

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A view to the city center of Heinola from the water tower. As you can see, my hometown is kind of tiny compared to Guangzhou.

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During our week we joked how Cantonese eat everything and we Finns eat all the time! Well, maybe it’s only true when you have important guests and Alan had problems to keep up with all the lunches, dinners, snacks and desserts. Here we are enjoying a waffle on top of a small hill.

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Alan was amazed how quiet it was everywhere and how we hardly saw any people. What he liked the most were the clean air and nature.

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On Sunday we took a bus to Helsinki to visit my older younger brother, it was great to have all my siblings with us for the day! What made me even more happy is how well Alan gets along with all of them, especially with my youngest little brother who is even more into sports than Alan is. Together they went running and played tennis.

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A Summer in Finland wouldn’t be a real Summer with fresh and delicious strawberries and peas. We bought one kilo of each and finished them all in twenty minutes. Strawberries in Guangzhou just doesn’t taste the same.

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We visited the Unesco World Heritage Sight Suomenlinna, that is a fortress from the 18th century. It had been almost twenty years since I visited Suomenlinna the last time, but I managed to spot some familiar places. For Alan it was a chance to see a glimpse of Finnish history. Helsinki is located next to the sea and Suomenlinna consists of a few islands, so it can be super windy even on a warm Summer day.

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Guangzhou is too big to enjoy by walking, but Helsinki city center luckily isn’t. Helsinki Cathedral is one of the most famous buildings in the centre of our capital. Here we saw lots of Chinese and Japanese tourist taking pictures, felt just like home in Guangzhou.

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For lunch Alan wanted to have some meat so he chose the pork ribs with lingonberry sauce. We didn’t eat any rice for the whole week and now that Alan is already back in Guangzhou, I bet he is enjoying his mother’s cooking for a month! I think it was very brave of him to try everything and taste so many new dishes during his trip. Perhaps we wouldn’t be as adventurous when we visit China the first time.

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Going back home to Finland always means several nights of family board games. Here we are playing a game called Qin that has a Chinese background to the story, but for some reason my little brother kept winning the whole time! On the right you can see traditional Finnish buns and cinnamon rolls.

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On Thursday it was time to have a road trip to Tampere with my mother and my bother. Tampere is the third biggest city in Finland and I used to study there before I moved to Guangzhou. Most of my friends live there so it’s a must visit every time I come back. During our drive we played games from our childhood, like guessing the color of the next car we saw.

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Ice cream is an important Summer treat in Finland. Because our Summer is so short and many things can only be enjoyed during the Summer, we value it highly. There is the first swim of the Summer, first ice cream outside, first cold cider on a terrace etc.

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In Tampere we had lunch with my friends, visited the international market at the city center and took a quick look at the Spy Museum where I used to work five years ago. My husband translated their English guide-book so he wanted to make sure he had done a good job.

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Before heading back to Heinola we had a party treat at Captain Hook and ordered a set of fries, onion rings and 60 chicken wings! With the four of us we could only finish about 40 of them, taking the rest with us.

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A beautiful rainbow made our drive back home a real treat.

 

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On Friday my sister and brother took Alan frisbee golfing, showing him the new sport that has been very popular in Finland. The rules are similar to golf, but instead of hitting a ball you throw a frisbee to a goal. Because we play in the forest, a lot of time goes to finding our frisbee inside the bushes when it accidentally goes in the wrong way. But that’s part of the fun!
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On Alan’s last full day in Finland, Saturday, we went to my aunt’s place to enjoy a five-hour lunch/dinner combo. She is an amazing cook and likes to entertain guests so eating there always takes hours and hours. First we had salmon with new potatoes, then we enjoyed mashed potatoes with mouth-melting pork stew and vegetables. For dessert we had blueberry pie, rhubarb pie, self-made cookies and ice cream with strawberries. I’m not sure how we walked back home after stuffing our selves with all those treats!

Before going to sleep there was one final thing for Alan to try. Take a dip in the river! The weather haven’t been that warm this Summer so the water temperature was just about 16 or 17 degrees Celsius. My little brother jumped right in and Alan followed him quickly. I did a short swim as well, but didn’t dare to dive as the cold water almost got me into a shock!

On Sunday me and my mother drove Alan to the airport, his short Summer holiday has come to an end. A week really isn’t enough to experience Finland to the fullest, but I’m sure it was just the first of many many trips in the future.

07/1/15

Mission: Make My Husband Fall In Love With Finland

After dating for 2.5 years, being married for 1.5 years and having a baby on the way, finally I’m taking Alan to visit my home in Finland! I’ve been experiencing China for more than 5 years, but my husband’s Finland experience has been restricted to me, meeting my family once and an occasional meet-up with a Finn here in Guangzhou.

As moving to Finland might be in the cards in our future, this very first visit to Finland will be crucial. My whole family is plotting a plan to make my husband fall in love with our country! Alan only has one week in Finland (I’m gonna stay two weeks), so the mission is not easy.

First of all we are going to experience the Summer in Heinola, a small city in Southern Finland I call my hometown. I hope the temperatures will be enough for dipping in the river and exploring the woods as nature is something I want Alan to fully experience. If I wasn’t pregnant, I would take Alan horse riding!

Our week will also include two other destinations, the capital Helsinki and Tampere, a city where I used to live for years and where most of my friends live. We’ll start with Helsinki that very well might be our new home someday in the future (but not in the near future probably). Lets see if our capital is big enough for a local Guangzhounese.

Next destination is perhaps the best city in Finland, Tampere. The city where I moved from home, started my history degree (never finished though) and kind of grew up. I’m going to take Alan to the Spy Museum where I used to work because he translated the Chinese guidebook there. Alan also want’s to visit a Finnish university, so I’m giving him a tour at Tampere University. Might feel a bit small though after these huge campuses in China.

Meeting friends and family is of course big part of our tour as well. Until now Alan has only met with my mother, little sister and her boyfriend and one of my little brothers. I’m sure he’ll get along well with my dad and his wife, my other little brother and relatives that we meet along the way. I’m especially looking for a big feast at my aunt’s place as she is an amazing cook! Alan has been laughing at me how my stories of Finland always include food!

When you are in a multicultural marriage like me and Alan, it’s important to understand each other’s background. A week is of course not a enough, but it’s a start for Alan to see the world from my point of view. Perhaps he’ll realize that I’m not weird, I’m just a Finn!

I’ll be sharing more after our Finnish holiday and I’ll let you know if our plan to make my husband fall in love with Finland worked or not. Our mission starts this Sunday!

06/25/15

No matter how hard it might feel, you can learn to speak Chinese

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How is it like to learn a second language as an adult is a question I encounter with on a daily basis when teaching my students Chinese. I started learning Chinese when I was 20, but before that I already had experience in learning a foreign language. I started English at 9 years old, German at 11 and Swedish when I was 13. But how is it like for adults who start their very first foreign language and it happens to be Chinese?

First an article on Hacking Chinese came to my mind: You might be too lazy to learn Chinese, but you’re not too old. Olle reminds as that even though it’s easier for children to master the pronunciation of a new language , we adults are much smarter and thus are much better at learning. What we should learn from kids though is that they don’t give up and they aren’t afraid to make mistakes.

We adults often expect results way too quickly and get frustrated when we don’t learn a new skill right away. Remember that learning anything new takes time and effort, so does Chinese, and don’t be afraid to make lots of mistakes along the way.

Speaking of confidence, a blog post from Sinoplice, Confidence and Tones, reminds us how important it is to be confident in your studies. The perfect balance is with having the correct information (knowing the correct pronunciation) and being confident enough to open your mouth and say those words out loud. Children aren’t afraid to speak up so we should definitely learn from them!

I didn’t learn the Chinese pronunciation well when I started. Our teacher just made us listen and repeat after a CD recoding for hours and hours, without explaining why we were learning this way. She didn’t explain where and how all these new sounds should be pronounced in our mouths. She didn’t correct our tones enough and let us get away with bad pronunciation.

When I came to China I noticed that it could take me 5 minutes to try to order yì bēi shŭi one glass of water just because my pronunciation was so terrible. During the years I’ve noticed plenty of foreigners complaining how the Chinese don’t understand their Chinese, I felt the same way at first. But then I realized that it’s my fault, my pronunciation just wasn’t good enough to allow the listener to easily understand me.

Learning Chinese pronunciation is tricky, it takes lots of time and effort, but the good news are, that after you master it (or become good enough), learning Chinese becomes much easier. At first it may seem like that you never learn those difficult initials like j, q, x or zh, ch, sh, but that’s not true. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, study hard and you will notice how native speakers start to understand you.

It may take a while to get that first feeling of accomplishment, but trust me, it feels great! One day you realize the taxi drive understood where you were going, the waitress got your order right and you just said your very first spontaneous Chinese sentence without translating it first in your head.

John from Sinoplice describes learning Chinese in 5 stages, starting from “Ching-chong-ching”. At this first stage Chinese seems something completely alien to you. How could these sounds be learned? And how is it even possible to recognize the different tones, do they even matter? After learning Chinese for a while, with a good teacher, a learner will gradually realize that Chinese is a language just like any other language (Stage 2). You start to understand that for the Chinese the difference between mā with a first tone and mà with a fourth tone is as big as the difference between A and B letters is for us.

I wish that my students don’t make the same mistakes as I did and think the tones or correct pronunciation doesn’t matter. Yes, Chinese will understand you Xièxie (thank you) and fāpiào (incoive) no matter how poorly you utter them, just  because these are the two words they are used to hearing from a foreigner’s mouth. But try something else and you find yourself having communication trouble.

We also have difficulties with non-native speakers of our own languages if their pronunciation is way off, it’s the same with Chinese. English and Chinese just happen to be quite different languages so it takes a bit more effort to nail the pronunciation. So let’s make it easier for us and for the listener and learn those new sounds. Just like a kid, don’t be afraid to make mistakes!

Now after learning Chinese for 6+ years I finally understand how valuable it is to listen to the advice or advanced learners like Olle from Hacking Chinese and John from Sinoplice. They have gone through the journey, made the mistakes and are sharing their wisdom on how to avoid those mistakes our selves.

As a final word for this not so coherent blog post, I would like to say that don’t give up. No matter how hard it might seem in the beginning, you can learn to speak Chinese. No matter if it’s your first or fifth foreign language, you are never too old to learn new things. Advance on your own speed, but take an advantage of the tips of other learners.

Good luck! Study hard!