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!

  • Congrats for 5 years! That’s incredible~ And sounds like tons of fun~


  • R Zhao

    I also came to China when I was 22 and it has been 10 years this past week. I can’t believe how fast it has gone and how many things I experienced during that decade. I’ve had a lot of highs and lows. I think my time here is coming to its close.

    Wish you a Happy New Year, Sara and may you have a great five more years in China (with no seven year itch!!).


  • I Am Me! Jerry Andrew Blizzard

    This was a very helpful insight about Guangzhou, China, for me, Sara. That is one area that I may visit in 2016. I really love China, and the people there. I hope I find a wife from that China love dating site 1st. But who knows? I may just relocate to your city, & possibly find a nice lady there. A years of struggling 1st, may provide a few words of their language to help me. If possible, can I learn Chinese from you, or one of your classes? Of course, I will pay anybody that can teach me.


  • Happy Chinaversary!!


  • Congratulions :)

    I am happy that I survived my 8 years in Finland :p


  • Ellen

    +1 on all you wrote :)
    Happy Chinaversary!! (whoever invented this word is a genius :P )


  • That’s amazing! I have only been living in China for about two years. :) I wish you more happy chinaversaries!


  • Jocelyn Eikenburg

    Hey Sara, happy China-versary! You are an inspiration to us all for how you’ve created such a wonderful life for yourself in China. I’m raising my cup of steaming hot green tea in your direction and hoping you have many more wonderful years ahead of you, wherever you are in the world.


  • Jack

    Wow, 5 years. I can’t believe I been following your blog for 5 years (although to be honest….on and off). I remember when I started reading your blog, and you just started your degree there! I even corrected your essays several times… ;)

    I think what is shocking is how you manage to stay in China for so long! I have recently visited China for the first time (January 2015), Guangzhou to be exact! I must say it really opened my eyes. Before visiting China – I was an ardent defender of China and Chinese culture – but when I actually visited China – I was both happy and disappointed – China is what I expected – its infrastructures are quite advance, the breadth of “scale” is just amazing to say the least (all those massive shopping centers, rows and rows of apartment that looks so monolithic it looks like something out of “Inception”); but it is also “partially” what I expected – it is backward in ways I could never dream of – the people are selfish, inconsiderate, and rude beyond comprehension. I was told this is how Guangzhou people are. I have seen posters in subway stations (and also under Guangzhou tower) “teaching” people to be polite – not to spit openly, give seats to elderly or pregnant people, trying to be considerate. THEY NEED POSTERS TO TEACH THEM MANNERS AND TO BE CONSIDERATE! LMAO! And obviously posters aren’t working because my experience there was horrible to say the least. I have seen customer openly assaulted waitress in restaurant twice (just my luck?), parents helping their kids pee and defecate in public, and just general rudeness in almost everyday life. Asking people for direction in Guangzhou as I have learned, is a futile excercise. NOBODY would help you (mind you, I am not caucasian – just so you know). The shopkeepers are generally rude and impatient, and on the road it seems everyday is a gamble – it feels like nobody knows the traffic rule and everybody is out to kill you! I counted 3 occasions where the car I was in (not driven by me, but by locals) almost crashed because of reckless and selfish behaviors from other drivers who cut into our lane without even signaling, or trucks that turned into us when the traffic light is RED for him…etc etc. I felt like I could write several books just to detail all these accounts.

    I have once read that some one from China once said… Problem with China is because they have “so many low quality people”. I was shocked and outrage by this statement before, but after I visited China, I have to say I agree.

    So I salute you! 5 years and still staying strong! I don’t think I could make it for 5 weeks to be honest!


    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    I think I can totally understand where you are coming from Jack, the whole experience of living in China really is between the extremes. Sometimes it’s all rose petals and sometimes you just have those Bad China Days in a row.

    Before I came to China I had a very positive image of China and Chinese, I thought that the Chinese family is especially close and warm. After being a part of one I’ve realized that I still often prefer the Finnish way of things. Close family also means less privacy for example.

    I think I sometimes get frustrated with China is because I forget that it’s really been developing for a modern nation for such a short time, the opening up just started in the late 70’s. The country is so varied and Chinese themselves don’t necessarily feel comfortable either. Gaps between well educated modern citizens to those from the country side are huge, as are their ideas and manners.

    Five years have gone by surprisingly fast, lets see how many years there will be for me in China.


  • Paula Fernández

    Dear Sara,

    I follow you since one or two years ago.I found you by chance, maybe looking for some information to improve my Chinese. Actually, I couldn’t put into words, how I love your blog, your history, your courage, and so on.

    I love Chinese language, I am preparing HSK4 by myself, because at that moment, and for work reasons I couldn’t attend to classes at my town, Oviedo, in the north of Spain, ASTURIAS.

    Congratulations for everything. I really love your adventures, photos, and of course, everything you tell us and show about Chinese Learning.

    Really, you are an inspiration person.

    Cheers from,
    Paula Fernández


    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Thank you so much Paula for your message, it really made my day! Did you take the HSK4 already, how did it go? I’m sure it went well :)


    Paula Reply:

    Dear Sara, no, from this moment I would like to do this year, but I try to founf time to study by myself!!
    Keep in touch!!
    You are wellcome!!


  • jess

    hey Sara this is Jess. Stumbled upon ur blog when I was searching for VPN web access. Anyways I’m visiting family in Guangzhou for the second time (last time was 5 years ago) from Baltimore, MD. Here till the beginning of May. Do you happen to recommend anything to see/do/eat around here? My family is a great resource but I also want to get someone else’s advice on this.


    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Hi Jess! Sorry to keep you waiting for an answer, how have you liked Guangzhou so far?

    I really like the Guangdong Museum in Zhujiang New Town, also the Lychee Bay on Liwan district. In Zhujiang New Town there is also the best Cantonese restaurant in town BingSheng (炳胜). Of course in Guangzhou you should get Dim Sum as well, lots of places around the city.


  • Ah Fat!!!!!!!!!