07/31/13

Being happily stuck in Guangzhou

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My reader Jason asked me to write about why I love living in Guangzhou and I’ve been thinking of this topic ever since.

It’s not like I chose to come to Guangzhou because I wanted to live here, it was an easy choise as my Finnish university has cooperation with the Guangzhou University. Then I stayed in Guangzhou for more than the planned one semester because I met someone. Even though that ended, I’m grateful that the relationship made me want to stay in Guangzhou and I started my bachelor’s degree at Sun Yat-Sen University. Because at Sun Yat-Sen I met my Japanese classmate who later, when I was single again, introduced me to my boyfriend. That would have never happened if I had moved to Beijing like I first planned to do.

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During these three years I’ve grown attached to Guangzhou. I’m a person who likes to stay, I’m not a fan of changes or moving around. I noticed that there is something for everyone’s taste in Guangzhou. My own student circles first in University Island and now around my campus at Haizhu District. Me and my classmates enjoying the cheap food and entertainment in Binjiangdong and Jiangnanxi. Then there are working expats living in Zhujiang New Town, Tianhe and Taojin, seeing a totally different side of Guangzhou between all the Western restaurants and bars. In this city you can live rich in a posh new district or modestly in a small village like I’m doing.

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Beijing’s air pollution is much worse than here, Shanghai seems to have a more international atmosphere and Hong Kong doesn’t fit my budget. But Guangzhou even has some clear blue sky during summer (like today), has a nice local feeling and you can eat really cheap if you want to. Hong Kong and that “other island” is out of the picture, because it’s the mainland culture and history I’m most interested in. Even though it might sometimes give me a headache.

Living in a Cantonese area is a blessing and a curse. My Mandarin pronunciation would have been much better in the north with a Beijing boyfriend, that’s something I’ve fully realized recently. But living in Guangzhou also gives me the opportunity to step my toes in a new language, which I hope to learn someday.

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But I have to admit that I’m always thinking with my heart and sometimes forget my head. I always do what I want to do at that time of my life, even others would think my decisions don’t make much sense. I worked hard two years in order to get into history major, then moved to China before I graduated and forget all about that. Then I decided to specialize in Teaching Chinese opposed to most of my classmates choosing Business Chinese. I haven’t regretted that decision one bit, hell, I might even continue to master’s if I get the chance.

I have never regretted moving to China and staying in Guangzhou. It has turned my life upside down, for the better! I’m eager to find out what life and Guangzhou have in storage for me.

So why do you live or want to live in China? Are you happy where you live now or do you dream of moving to a new place? Please share in the comments!

07/22/13

My top 5 favourite places in Guangzhou

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Inspired by my reader Jason and my friend Linda, today I will be summing up my favourite places in Guangzhou. Over the three years I’ve spent here, I’ve grown to love this city and can’t imagine living anywhere else. I get easily attached to places and don’t enjoy moving from city to city.

In Finland I was born in Vantaa, near our capital Helsinki, but moved to small city called Heinola when I was two years old. I grew up there, but moved to Orivesi, even smaller city, for high school. After high school graduation I moved to Tampere, which is the third biggest city in Finland. I worked and studied there until I moved to China. All in all I haven’t been living in that many places.

But what are my favorites after three years of living in Guangzhou?

1. Xiaozhou Village

My number one favourite since I first visited it back in 2010 is still Xiaozhou Village. I recommend anyone and everyone living or traveling in Guangzhou to visit this art village. It’s perfect for reading books in unique coffee shops, taking photographs and learning art.

2. Xiguan

For Cantonese Lingnan style architecture I head to Xiguan, which is part of Liwan district now. During festivals and holidays area around Liwan lake gets a bit crowded but it’s also a good place for enjoying the atmosphere and taste some local delicacies.

3. University Island

A great place for biking is the University Island. It’s a home for ten university campuses and three villages. There are bike rentals in the metro stations and every weekend you can see quite a many locals biking and enjoying the fresh air. If you bike around the outer ring road, it’s about 20km and takes one hour. But for a nice day out I recommend you to eat in one of the villages, Beigang, Beiting or Nanting.

4. Sun Yat-Sen University Campus

I have to admit I really love our campus! It’s full of old red brick architecture and big trees transforming the campus to a park. The central grass area is great for a picnic during the day, but when the sky starts to get darker you should head to the North Gate where all kinds of people from kids to grandparents hang out and practice dancing.

5. Tianhe Book Center

If you want to buy books in Guangzhou you should absolutely head to Tianhe’s Book Center. They have an English book store on the fourth floor which is a bit pricy, but it has a nice selection of foreign books. The book center also has a good stock of Chinese learning material. So no matter if you are enrolled in a university, self studying or preparing for the HSK, check out this book center.

+ Top 3 restaurants

  1. For the best curry in town, take a taxi to Beijing Lu where you can find an amazing Viatnamese restaurant called the Tiger Prawn. Try curry chicken soup with French bread.
  2. If you want pizza, then I recommend Oggi near the Taojin metro station. They also have a restaurant in Tianhe, but the prices there are much higher than in Taojin.
  3. And because we are in Guangzhou, everyone should try the traditional dim sum. There are numerous places for dim sum all over the city. One really nice is Weiguo Kitchen on Binjiang East Road in Haizhu district.

+ Tourist tips

  • For some background information to the history of Guangdong province, take your passport and enter the free Guangdong Museum in Zhujiang New Town.
  • If you want to cruise along the Pearl River, go when it’s dark and only take the cheapest 38RMB ticket. The food buffet isn’t worth it.
  • For gifts go to Onelink Plaza in Haizhu Square.
  • For expat news read That’s PRD magazine.

Now it’s your turn! What’s your favourite place in Guangzhou? Or if you were to visit Guangzhou, what kind of areas or places would you like to visit?

07/16/13

Language choices in Chinese-Foreign Relationship

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Jocelyn from Speaking of China just published some results from a survey made by Laura Banks for her dissertation. “She surveyed 33 couples in her research, 18 with a Chinese female partner and 15 with a Chinese male partner.” I wanted to take a closer look on the language themed findings for Chinese/Non-Chinese couples.

“Sometimes being able to choose which language to use is not possible, due to one partners inability to speak another”

In our case, my boyfriend has limited English skills, even more limited when we first met, so speaking Mandarin Chinese was the only viable option for us. My boyfriend’s English has improved a lot during this half a year, but as my Chinese is still better than his English, therefore we mainly continue using Mandarin between each other.

I also feel a bit weird when speaking English with him as I’m so used to using Mandarin. Sometimes he speaks English to me, in order to practise, and I answer him in Chinese.

“A number of the couples talk about one of them learning a new language, [one] reason is the desire to be able to speak and communicate with the partner’s family…. This is an important factor for many because it can be difficult to feel accepted and comfortable in a family if you are unable to communicate with them.”

My boyfriend’s native language is Cantonese and I personally feel that I have to learn Cantonese in order to wholly feel part of his family. My lacking Cantonese is the reason I feel out of space in the dinner table and also in meetings with his friends. Even though all of them, family members and friends, can speak Mandarin too, I would feel much more comfortable if I knew Cantonese.

My boyfriend doesn’t have such a big pressure to learn Finnish as we don’t live in Finland and my family members can all speak English (They haven’t met yet anyway). My boyfriend’s first goal is to learn English and only after then would he consider learning Finnish.

“A number of couples talk about themselves having to or ‘finding someone to’ translate or interpret for the partner or family”

I usually don’t need translating help when I’m speaking with the family members, usually it’s the mother “translating” the father’s heavily accented Mandarin. Or if they are all engaged in a conversation in Cantonese, I might ask my boyfriend to translate for me what they are talking about.

So even though I can communicate with his family, I still regard learning Cantonese very important for me.

“Children and the language that they are able to speak when their parents are in an intercultural relationship can be very interesting.”

If we have children I would speak Finnish with them and my boyfriend and his family would speak Cantonese. They would also learn Mandarin as we speak it with each other and it’s compulsory at school. English would of course be in the package too as it’s way too important not to learn, and also a compulsory subject. So that’s four languages already!

Language choices in a multicultural relationship aren’t always so simple. I’m not sure if we will use more English in the future. My boyfriend’s English is improving all the time, but my own English is getting worse every year. Also, could I be able to learn Chinese to a level where it would be equal with my Mandarin?

What language do you use with your Chinese better half? Do you feel weird when changing between the languages? Please share your experiences in the comments!

07/12/13

Long Distance Relationship with 15-hour time difference

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Today we are in for a treat! My friend Linda, who I met through my blog, wrote a guest post for us about her long distance relationship with her Chinese boyfriend. I’ve met her boyfriend too and have to say they are a cute couple! But now over to Linda…

Hi! My name is Linda and I spent 6 months in Guangzhou where I met my boyfriend Fu. I heard and read about Guangzhou before going to China, but most people said people mainly speak Cantonese in Guangzhou and that I would not be able to improve my Mandarin.

When I came across Sara’s blog I asked her about it and she told me not to worry, that most people would talk to me in Mandarin and that I would definitely be able to improve my Chinese – therefore, I decided to go to Guangzhou! So basically Sara plays a part in me actually meeting my boyfriend!

We started going out really quickly after we met and everything went really well! I was able to improve my Chinese and learned a lot about Chinese culture. He lives in Heyuan, Guangdong, about 2 hours from Guangzhou. As my time in China was coming to an end, I decided to spend as much time with him as possible. Staying for 3 weeks with Fu at his parents’ house.

However, sooner or later it was time to say goodbye – the most horrible day in my life. I had to move to the US to finish my Bachelor’s degree in San Diego, California. Luckily, we have not given up and we have been going long-distance for 3 months now which, of course, leads to problems every once in a while.

Time Difference

The most obvious problem is, of course, the time difference. With me living in Southern California, we are suffering a time difference of 15 hours! Before I came here I had serious doubts if it works out well, but after all we have found our “rhythm” and talk as much as possible – EVERYDAY!

I think the key to every LDR (long-distance relationship) is communication – because that’s all you got! So just as you were together you also share the small things, like what you had for dinner or what kind of new shoes you bought. What my boyfriend and I are doing is sending each other pictures from our everyday life while waiting for the bus, during break, during lunch etc. We would also tell each other funny stories about what kind of weird people we came across and just laugh together. After all, we talk much more instead of just sitting on the couch and watching TV for example. I find this is a real advantage, because we can have much more deep conversations.

Tip: Besides photos, send your partner postcards from everywhere you travel or buy him/her some small gifts.

Jealousy

When you cannot be together, trust is essential. Of course, you or your partner won’t stop living your life and still go out to clubs or hang out with friends. I experienced this a lot of times: my boyfriend would get upset when I wanted to go out and meet friends and not spent time with him video chatting. Sometimes I would react the same way – just because I missed him so much. Nevertheless, it’s not okay just to start an argument if your partner wants to go out with friends.

Tip: You just need to think clearly and remember all the nice things your partner ever said about you: why and how much he loves you. After all, respect and trust is essential in a relationship – not only in LDRs!

Fighting

The next thing I experienced about being in a LDR is how fighting changed when not being together. For me having an argument is all about body language and facial expressions. When I see how hurt or touched or angry or upset my boyfriend is during a fight, I might change my standpoint about what we are fighting for. But when you are arguing over the phone or even text messaging you cannot see what your partner looks like, you cannot tell how he really feels about it. Since I have been apart from Fu, we have encountered some ups and downs which led to arguments and I still have trouble handling them well. Fortunately, we’ve only had a few fights but I still cannot figure out how to handle it well when I don’t see my boyfriend’s expressions.

Tip: Try to avoid arguing through texting. It is important to show and see body language! If you have to fight, keep the webcam on! And don’t hang up the phone during a fight!

Cultural differences

Believe it or not I am still experiencing cultural difference issues with my boyfriend. However, not how one would think me questioning various Chinese habits, but HIM not understanding some of the 外国 (foreign) habits. This happens when I am out at the beach, for example, because he does not get why one would just simply lay at the beach and relax in the sun. It is very interesting to experience the other side when he doesn’t understand some of my habits or a new culture’s habits (he has never been outside of China).

Tip: Now you know how your partner usually feels when you don’t understand some of the habits, therefore: be patient and explain these “weird” habits to him/her!

I’ll be back!

I still have another 8 months to go until I graduate and go back to China. However, I am optimistic that Fu and I are going to make it and be happy ever after. He is also trying to come over and visit me in the US during my long Thanksgiving and Christmas break. Until then, Fu and I will try to continue our (mostly) happy LDR – which in a way, ironically, also brings us more together.

Check out Linda Living in China and Linda’s Travel Photography blog!

07/10/13

My Dream Travel Destinations in China

My dream for this lifetime is to visit every province in China, until now I have visited Beijing, Shanxi, Shanghai, Hunan, Guangxi, Hainan, Sichuan, Guizhou, Shaanxi and Guangdong of course. The following three are destinations that I must visit sooner or later.

If you have visited these places, or have other recommendations, please leave a comment!

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Yunnan has been on the top of my list for a long time now, but as it requires at least two weeks or even more, I’ve been waiting for the right time to go there. What I’ve heard of Yunnan is the beautiful landscape and climate that feels like it’s eternal Spring. There are also many minorities living in the area which makes it possible to learn a lot about different cultures on one trip.

My boyfriend wasn’t so cheery about our 17 hour train trip to Guizhou, but I still prefer traveling slowly. There’s just this special kind of feeling when traveling on the train, playing games and eating snacks. It’s also a good time to catch up on some reading about the destinations and plan hiking routes.

 

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Tulou is a traditional building of the Hakka minority, they can be found on the both sides of the border in Guangdong and Fujian provinces. I’m not sure why but for some reason this kind of architecture have interested me for a while now and I can’t wait to visite on of the villages.

We even had a school trip arranges to Meizhou to see tulou, but unfortunately it wasn’t for us degree students. Visiting tulous could be ideally put together with a trip to Xiamen which I’ve heard nice things about too. Many foreign students study Chinese there and me and my boyfriend almost visited it last December. Because of ticket situation we went to Hengshan instead.

Besides Hakka villages with tulous houses, I also wish to visit as many ancient villages in China as possible. There is just something in the rural China that attracts me much more than the urban China. Some interesting destinations include Wuyuan in Jiangxi and Danbazangzhai in Sichuan.

 

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Then there is of course Tibet, the place where all the travellers seem to want to travel once in a lifetime. This is a big dream for my boyfriend and I wonder was it because of the movie where a guy rides a bike to Lhasa and back to honor his late brother.

Going to Tibet isn’t that easy for a foreigner because we need a permission to go. The rules seem to be changing all the time and this kind of trip would require weeks. I don’t have any hurry to visit Tibet, it feels more like a destination that I will visit some day, but that day is still somewhere in the future.

What is your dream travel destination in China?