12/9/13

Our Finnish-Chinese Love Story

finnish chinese love story

Yesterday, one year ago, I met my boyfriend Alan.

It was 8th of December 2012 and I was invited to a Finnish pre-Christmas party in Foshan. It was held in a luxurious expat home of a Finnish family and I brought my Finnish classmate with me as well. It was amazing to get to eat those familiar Christmas dishes again, chat with fellow countrymen and listen to Christmas songs.

Then we got the bad news that our Japanese friend had broken up with his girlfriend. They had been together quite a long time, but for some reason it didn’t work out. He was feeling down, wanted some company and invited my classmate to the Perry’s near our university. So after Santa Claus shared his small gifts to the kids and adults, me and my classmate head back to Guangzhou.

We found our Japanese friend in a table with another Japanese Guy, a Chinese guy (Alan!) and a Chinese girl. We introduced ourselves and I just couldn’t help but to ask the Chinese, as they were sitting next to each other, if they were in a relationship. They laughed and said they were just friends.

We ordered food and drinks while chatting away and trying to cheer our friend up. In the end he wasn’t really on the party mood and was the first one to go home. The Chinese girl also went home quite early, my classmates disappeared in the crowd and so me, Alan and the another Japanese guy were left at our table.

The three of us continued discussing random topics that I can’t even remember anymore, but me and Alan started to talk more and more with each other. The Japanese guy was a real party animal and wanted to head to a club and convinced us to go too. We took a taxi to the party pier and the boys paid 150RMB each to get into the Wave.

In the noisy club with flashing lights and people surrounding us from every ankle, Alan saw his chances, took my hand and kissed me.

Few days later our common friend, the heart-broken Japanese, even offered to introduce other people to us as he wasn’t convinced we would be a good match. I remember he asked me if I had considered Alan’s family background, so Asian of him!

Luckily we didn’t listen to his advice and have been together ever since.

This blog post was inspired by Linda’s love story. Please share your own in the comments, I would love to hear it.

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!

07/1/13

Living with a Chinese family

Since Chinese New Year I’ve been living with my Chinese boyfriend and his parents. A decision that makes me seem a bit crazy in the eyes of my parents, siblings and friends. So how is it actually like to be part of a Chinese family and live with the parents?

 I call my boyfriend’s mother ayi (aunt) and father shushu (uncle).

From living alone to living with the parents

I can say I’m pretty independent person, I moved away from my mom’s home when I was 15 in order to attend high school. Since that I’ve lived in a boarding school, in a dorm, alone and with a boyfriend. I’m used to having my own space and doing things the way I like. Usually this means messy rooms and doing laundry the last possible day.

Living with parents of course means losing a part of  your freedom. Everyday I have to consider my boyfriends parents. I can’t keep on having my bohemian messy lifestyle and I have to call ayi every time I don’t come back home for dinner.

In a Chinese family you also have to get used to people commenting your way of life. Cleaning, sleeping, eating, everything is up for discussion and advice. Usually if the parents aren’t happy with my boyfriend, they will tell me and let me talk to him. That also goes the other way around. I will hear from my boyfriend if the parents don’t like me keeping the air con on all the time.

Often you also can feel a bit awkward. For example I can spend the whole day on the sofa surfing the net and watching tv series, but I sometimes feel guilty of not doing anything useful. I wouldn’t feel that way if I lived alone. Also there are those times when ayi asks me to go dancing with her to the local park and I try to find excuses not to go.

But it’s not all negative either.

Food, food and then some more food

One of the best things about living with Chinese parents must be the food! I guess we are seen as kids who would starve if we weren’t given two warm meals per day, breakfast buns and fresh fruit and snacks. Ayi is a stay at home mom and spends her days cleaning, making clothes for extra income and cooking. She knows what to eat in every season and makes basic healthy Cantonese meals. She often comes up the stairs with a plate of sliced fruit before I’m even hungry.

By living with the parents I have learned so much more about their family and about my boyfriend. I’ve heard stories of their life before, how my boyfriend and his sister were like when they were kids. How ayi married shushu, built this house and later made it even bigger. I’ve learned about festival customs and experienced them first hand.

Living with a Chinese family is a bag of mixed emotions. Sometimes you feel so loved when everyone around you cares about you, sometimes you feel super annoyed because of the lack of your own space.

Our plan is not to live with the parents forever. Our dream is to renovate their old house that is almost next to this one and move there. But that is another story.

Have you lived with your Chinese in-laws? Or perhaps visited a Chinese family? Or is moving in with your boyfriend’s parents something you would never even consider?

04/24/13

Everything happens for a reason – Finding my place in China

Kuva

I’m a big believer that things happen for a reason and that things will always work out in the end. As you can guess from the photo, that is exactly what happened to me! You might still remember how I wrote being down last Autumn, having no motivation for studying and parting ways with my boyfriend.

During the last few years I have noticed that life always seem to through something new my way when I’m needing a change for the most. After going through the most terrible break up back in 2009 (Chinese guy with Finnish citizenship) I got a study exchange placement from Guangzhou University and moved to China in 2010. The whole world, well the whole China at least, was in my reach.

During my years in China I learned a lot, one of the things being taking charge of my own happiness. That let me to make the hard decision to break up with my boyfriend.

But as I believed, that was the beginning for a new life for me. I had grown up a lot during the first three years in China and what I wanted came clearer and clearer all the time. I’m not someone who settles for something, but someone who reaches her dreams and wants it all.

Last December, thanks to a good Japanese friend, I met A Nan. A local Guangzhounese, already graduated, working and doing another degree on his free-time. We noticed that we had a lot to talk about, connection that is hard to put into words. During that very same month he invited me to join his trip to Heng Mountain.

Since December I have been extremely happy and have gotten so much more to my life I could have ever asked for. I now live with his family which includes parents and little sister and her boyfriend, the two of them are marrying soon and moving to their own home next month. Besides my cat Lucy, I have adopted two more cats, Small White and Small Yellow. Both my boyfriend’s dad and little sister’s boyfriend have turtles. I have gotten so many new family members!

Living abroad far away from your family members isn’t always easy, but now I have a new family here in Guangzhou which makes my life some much richer than it have ever been. I have celebrated Chinese festivals, accompanied family members to furniture shopping and enjoyed family dinners every night.

I’m sure there are some curious readers out there with questions, but first I also have some questions for you too: Have you lived with a Chinese family yourself? Or how does it feel like to be part of your Chinese better half’s family?