07/20/16

What to accept in the name of culture?

At a friend’s wedding in 2015

I often get comments or emails asking if something is common Chinese behavior in a spouse or in-laws. They wonder if they are acting in a strange way because of cultural reasons and therefore should be respected even though you find it hard to accept.

For example shaving a baby’s head is a common practice in China. Some believe by shaving the hair will grow thicker, some simply think it’s cooler without hair in a hot climate. Would you accept this as a part of Chinese culture?

It’s easy to accept the things we agree about. Having dinner with the in-laws once a week gives me a break from cooking. Even though I believe women should earn their own money, I haven’t turned off gifts from my husband such as a bicycle and a MacBook laptop.

But what about the things we find hard to accept? The way of criticizing to show your love? In-laws giving you a bunch of unwanted advice and throwing a temper tantrum when you decide to hire a nanny?

I believe that instead of thinking “Do I accept this Chinese cultural custom” you should consider “Do I accept this person as my spouse with his or her habits no matter cultural or not”. The point is not that you are about to marry or already married to a Chinese person. More importantly you are committed to this particular person.

Let me give you an example. If my husband had to drink him self under the table at business dinners several times per week, I wouldn’t accept it. It’s a part of Chinese business culture yes, but that doesn’t make it any more acceptable from my point of view. “But that’s just part of our culture” wouldn’t be a plausible explanation for me. 

One tricky trap to avoid is thinking “I wouldn’t accept this from a Western boyfriend, but he is Chinese so I must understand”.  I admit I have fallen to this pit in my previous relationships, accepting way too much in the name of culture than I should have. This reminds me of the book Good Chinese Wife, where Susan refused to believe her husband cheated even though the evidence was right in front of her. 

So what to accept then? I accepted that our daughter got my husband’s last name without a discussion. I also accept strangers touching our baby’s hands or even cheeks as I know it’s just a part of the child loving nature of Chinese people.

In the end intercultural marriage is still a marriage. If something makes you uncomfortable or angry, discuss it with your spouse. If you aren’t married yet, decide if you are willing to live with his or hers strange habits no matter cultural or not.

05/16/16

How to say I Love You in Chinese?

Our honeymoon

When a Chinese couple dates they often say Wo xihuan ni I like you, but the big word love isn’t used as much. I remember I used to lecture my husband (boyfriend at the time) that I’m not his friend so he shouldn’t just say like. Now he is very used to saying the three important words on a daily basis.

But in a Chinese family words of love aren’t heard in Wo ai ni I love you, but in other words completely.

Presenting Chinese – Western translations:

You don’t know how to do it, let me. Translation: I love you and want to help you.

Don’t move away from home, you will starve to death. Translation: I love you and want to be near to you.

Why you got such a bad score from the exam?! You need to study harder! Translation: I love you and want you to have a nice future.

Wear more clothes or you’ll catch a cold! Translation: I love and care about you.

A Chinese family member won’t say I love you directly, but often hide it between criticism, scolding or advice. I often get upset by the words I hear, but often thinking it through it translates into love. We just express it in different ways.

How does your Chinese family express love?

05/6/16

Finding an ayi in Guangzhou

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Most of my time is still spent taking care of Anna, but having an ayi at home allows me to make a slow gradual change back to work

After more than six years in Guangzhou, I have finally hired an ayi (housekeeper) to help me with household work and to take care of the baby when I work. Finding the right ayi wasn’t easy, but now she has worked for us for one month and become like a family member to us.

The first question that locals as me is why I need ayi when I live next door to the grandparents. In China is common for the grandparents to take care of grandchildren when the parents are working and earning a living. Well in our case nainai (grandma) already has a 10 month old grandson to take care of which keeps her busy enough. I also admit thinking that a hired person would more likely do things the way I want them to be done.

Finding an ayi is a bit easier if you live in the city center in areas like Tianhe, Zhujiang New Town, Liede or Ersha Island. Of course the prices are higher as well and the monthly salary of a full-time cleaning ayi or nanny starts from 4000rmb and can go up to 7000rmb.

As we live far from the city center, in a very local village, my options were limited. Finally through my connections I found our ayi, who is a sweet young woman who came to Guangzhou last year to earn a living. As her experience is quite limited still and she eats and lives with us for free, her monthly salary is just 2200rmb.

At first it was strange to have someone around all the time, but we have gotten used to it quickly. Our baby girl likes her a lot and she takes care of her three afternoons per week when I’m working outside. Besides that she cooks lunch and dinner, and takes care of our household chores.

If you are looking for an ayi or nanny, it’s best to find one through recommendations like I did. Ask your friends in WeChat and you will surely get plenty of recommendations depending where you live. During the Summer many families leave Guangzhou and good housekeepers are available for hire.

02/12/16

Chinese New Year 2016

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Chinese New Year starts with preparations that I usually take part, but now taking care of our baby girl was more than enough this year. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law prepared the ghost money to be burned. On the eve of the new year, decorations are put up the doors, doorways and where ever you want to create a festive feeling. In the photo above is our front door with spring festival couplings that with the feeling of an older house.
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In Guangzhou it’s a tradition to visit Flower Markets before the new year and decorate your home with fresh flowers. I’m terrible at taking care of flowers, so we decided to have only two sets, one in the first floor and another in the second floor. Home always feels more festive when you have fresh flowers in the vase.

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Giving offerings to gods and ancestors is also an important part of the Chinese New Year. You place food and tea in front of the altar, light incense and quietly say a few words how  you wish that god to protect your family the  coming year. My parents-in-law also have an altar for the grandparents who aren’t with us anymore and food and drinks are offered from them as well.
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Because this year we had a small baby to take care of, some traditions had to be postponed. The fire crackers were much smaller than before and we were already asleep before midnight when the year of the goat changed into the year of the monkey. But we had a nice family dinner and the next day went outside to enjoy the beautiful sunny weather.

On the second day of the new year it’s a custom for daughters to visit their homes. As my home is a bit far away, we wen’t with my mother-in-law to visit her home and relatives.

This year Spring Festival seemed to go past very quickly, but I hope to get more festive feeling next year when our baby is 1 year already and can enjoy the holiday and new traditions our family will be creating.

02/7/16

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. You can find the same video on my Facebook page as well!