April in photos

April started with a family road trip to Yangjiang and beautiful sand beaches. Unfortunately it rained half the holiday but we had a lot of fun anyway!

Anna started learning how to use the kick bike to go around and always remembers to put her helmet on.

We had a picnic lunch at our balcony before the weather started to turn too hot.

I participated in a Limiting Beliefs workshop done by our Expat Chinese student Ben Massen. He taught us how our limiting beliefs stand in the way of our success.

Later at the office I got to break the board of my limiting beliefs!

I visited my university (Sun Yat-Sen University) to learn a bit about Chinese seal carving, it was a lot of fun!

Above is the seal I carved. It’s the traditional old character for “to study”.

I had a power lunch with five other women and talked for three hours about life and business.

Last Friday I took part in a free WeChat webinar about getting things done. Right away I assigned one of our interns to manage our free study group on WeChat, learned to delegate.

That was my April in a nut she’ll, how was your month?


Expat Life in China | 5 Biggest Changes Over the Past Decade

Chinas has changed a lot the past 8 years I’ve been living in Guangzhou. Today we have an interesting guest post from Josh who has been living in China even longer, he arrived back in 2006.

When I first arrived in China in 2006, blogs like this were a novelty. Most of us early China writers used services like Blogspot or MySpace, which tells you a lot about how things have changed.

It’s been an unbelievable decade of growth for China and I count myself fortunate to have been here to experience it. It hasn’t always been easy, but it has been an adventure!

For those who have only known China for the past few years, let me share with you some of the biggest changes I’ve experienced as I’ve lived, worked and traveled around China.


#1 Purchasing Train Tickets


Believe it or not, as recently as just a few years ago, train tickets could only be bought in person at the train station or ticket office. Not only that, but you could only purchase tickets at most 10 days in advance!

I remember in 2008 making plans to travel during the Spring Festival, China’s busiest travel season. I got up at 4am in the morning to stand in line with about 300 other people at our city’s small train ticket office. Tickets ran out the first day, so I had to repeat the same thing the next morning. I wasn’t even sure if we’d get to travel!

Now fast forward to last week, when I got on my iPhone to purchase tickets for a train that I planned to take next month. Quite a bit easier!

It’s also worth noting that train travel times have decreased significantly over the past decade with China’s high-speed train network. I remember spending days on the train – that’s days with an “s”! – to get from one city to another.

That same trip now takes 8 hours or less on a high speed train.


#2 Mobile Payment: WeChat & Alipay


As a teacher in China back in 2006, I would arrive at the finance office on the first day of every month to collect my paycheck. They would hand me a huge wad of cash and I had a special drawer at home where I kept the money locked up.

I could have applied for a bank card, but at the time those were only useful at big hotels or major grocery stores. Almost every transaction I made during the first few years in China was done in cash.

Fast forward to 2017. I have about 5 RMB worth of cash in my wallet at any given moment. At least 90% of my purchases are made with either Alipay or WeChat, which includes train ticket purchases, buying a drink at the corner store, or even taking a taxi.

Two weeks ago I walked out of my apartment and forgot my wallet. Strangely, it no longer mattered.


#3 China’s View of “Foreign Experts”


It used to be than anybody who spoke even an intermediate level of English could come to China to be a teacher. It was ridiculous, really, especially in the more remote parts of China that would accept anybody.

Because of this, being an “English teacher” in China wasn’t always something to be proud of. No matter how terrible a teacher, we foreigners always get paid 3-5x’s the local teachers’ salary.

I once had a teacher secretly confide to me that most of their co-workers were slightly bitter about the wage imbalance. That’s just the way it was, however, so there was no use complaining about it, they said.

While the term “foreign expert” is still used quite loosely in China, they have spent the past few years trying to change things. There are age limits, education requirements, and China is even starting to implement a “points system” wherein workers are given a score based on all these factors that determines whether they can receive a work visa.

More than anything, I think these changes reveal the way that China views foreigners. When I first arrived, any and everybody was welcome. Now, you have to prove yourself “worthy” of China.


#4 Drastic Changes in the Internet


I distinctly remember when everything changed in July of 2009. I was in my China apartment when I got a call from a friend about some big riots that happened in the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi.

Soon thereafter, Facebook and Twitter were blocked in China. Google was soon forced to exit for Hong Kong and as recently as last year Instagram was blocked.

Ah, the good ‘ol days when everyone was using Blogspot as my blogging platform here in China. Certainly not anymore. Any such blocked content now requires a VPN to access in China.

When I first arrived in China, everybody wanted a Facebook profile and a Yahoo account.

Now, China is simultaneously blocking many foreign internet companies while forcing the world to use systems like WeChat and Alibaba.


#5 Ability to Purchase Imported Goods


In 2006, the small town I moved to in western China had one supermarket with an “import aisle”. Occasionally we could find butter, but most of the time it was a can of Coke from Japan (I have no idea how it’s different than Chinese-Coke products) and a few Korean products. Going online to purchase wasn’t an option.

For me and my wife, packages with various baking goods from family back home were like gold.

Larger Chinese cities have had access to imported goods for quite a while now, but it’s only been in the past few years that China’s infrastructure has matured to the point that goods can be easily shipped anywhere in the country.

I can now get on my phone to order chocolate chips (pending they have them in stock) and have them delivered to my door in less than a week. It may not seem like much, but that’s a HUGE improvement!


Conclusion | Changes in China


When it comes to changes in China, sometimes I feel like the proverbial frog in a pot of boiling water. It’s not until I really sit down to think about it or talk with somebody else that I realize that a LOT really has changed!

China’s transportation, logistics, foreign policy and internet communications look nothing like they did when I first arrived in 2006.

I can’t even begin to imagine what things will look like in 2028.


Author Bio: Josh Summers first moved to China with his wife in 2006 and still resides in the far western region of Xinjiang with his family. He runs the website TravelChinaCheaper in addition to his travel business in China.


Dealing with cultural differences when you have Bad China Day

Group of Chinese students I met when traveling, 2014

Recently one of my blog readers sent me a question related to living in a different culture. I have seen this question popping up frequently so I decided to answer it in a blog post.

Her question is:

The longer I live in China the more I am unable to accept the behavior of the locals. They ask me all sort of personal questions the minute they meet me, but I don’t really want to share personal details about me to a complete stranger. I also feel like they want to find out if I’m worthy of spending time with, meaning if they can benefit from our friendship in someway in the future.

You are not alone in this! Living in a totally different culture to yours is tough, the way people speak, socialize, behave and make friends is different. For  those who don’t speak the language, the barrier is even greater.

First I want to write about the language  barrier in case the locals you speak with don’t speak fluent English or you don’t speak fluent Chinese. When speaking in a second language, especially if someone’s level is not that high, it’s easy to come off as too direct or even rude. Often that is because they simply lack the vocabulary to express what they truly want to say. So try to be understanding if someone is communicating with you with their second language.

Those of you who are studying Chinese, don’t get frustrated if the locals don’t seem to understand you even though you think you said it correctly. Most of the Chinese are not used to speaking with foreigners in Chinese and because of the pronunciation system, misunderstandings happen easily if your pronunciation or tones are off. I will assure you, that misunderstandings will get fewer and fewer the longer you study Chinese.

Secondly we need to remember that we can’t put our own culture and habits onto a pedestal and expect others to follow our norms or values. Asking lots of questions is a way of showing care, if you don’t do that, you might come out as cold and uncaring. Topics like money and weight aren’t taboos in China as they are in the West. When I encounter questions I don’t want to answer, I simply say “We don’t really discuss this in Finland, so I feel a bit embarrassed to talk about it.” Then quickly change the discussion to something else.

Thirdly comes the feeling of being used. Guangxi and networks are very important in China, you get things done and a lot faster when you know the right people. Chinese are also very good at doing business, so their business mode might be on all the time even when meeting friends. They spend time with friends who might be helpful in the future and not waste time with others. If you feel like someone gauging you in this way, and you feel uncomfortable, try to find other locals to socialize with. Hobby groups are usually better for making friends and networking events are mainly for business.

Last but not least, sometimes you just need a little break. When you feel it’s been too many Bad China Days in row, cross over to Hong Kong for example for a well deserved break. Then come back with new energy and an open mind.


30 things about me

1. I have lived 27% of my life in China. I moved here in March 2010 and have only been back home for holidays.

2. I’ve only had four boyfriends, only the first one Finnish and the last one is my husband.

3. I have studied Chinese for roughly 10 years, that’s one third of my age!

4. My favorite sports are snowboarding and horse riding, but haven’t done either since I moved to China. Now there is a horse riding stable close to my home!

5. I moved out from home when I was 15 because I wanted to go to a high school specialized in creative writing. That has been one of my best decisions in life, writing is still part of my life.

6. I hate saying no to new students and that’s why my teaching schedule is so full I rarely have time for lunch.

7. In primary school I read a lot of novels about kids/teens solving small crimes. I wanted to start my own kids investigation group too! I don’t think we solved any mysteries though…

8. I have studied taiji on three occasions, first in Finland around 2007, then during my BA degree and finally during my MA degree. Those were compulsory taiji courses for me.

9. My parents lived in Beijing in the 80’s for a few years and moved back to Finland few months before I was born. So I was in China before I was born!

10. My first website I created was in middle school and it was a virtual horse stable, those were super popular at that time. It had photos and introductions for each horse and you could virtually take care of them and write a diary on the site.

11. I Failed my first HSK test in 2010, but now I have the highest HSK certificate which is level 6.

12. My very first job was to distribute commercial leaflets, after that I have worked as a supermarket cashier, cleaner, telemarketer, charity worker, museum assistant, overseas purchage assistant, freelence copy-writer etc

13. Cities I’ve visited in China include: Beijing, Pingyao, Xi’an, Chengdu, Guilin, Yangshuo, Shanghai, Foshan, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Haikou, Sanya, villages in Guizhou province, Jingdezhen, Hangzhou, Suzhou, water town Tongli and Wuzhen, Hong Kong, Zhuhai.

14. I’m from a small city with a polulation of 20 000 people, I always thought Helsinki was too big for me, but then I moved to Guangzhou that has a population of 2.5 times the whole of Finland. And I don’t think Guangzhou is too big at all!

15. I have taken two courses in Cantonese at the university, but haven’t continued it since. My husband’s family is Cantonese and I prefer to stay out of all the family drama that is being held in their native language.

16. Speaking of languages I have studied Swedish and German both for 5-6 years, but have forgotten both completely after moving to China.

17. I have been on Chinese TV show once and it was a fun experience though I’m not a fan how fake everything is.

18. I learned not to curse in Chinese after I got one taxi driver super mad for basically nothing. After all, I don’t like cursing in any language.

19. As a kid my dream jobs were hairdresser and animal care-taker.

20. I met one of my best friends through my blog when she sent me an email saying “I’m moving to Guangzhou and I have Finnish chocolate with me”.

21. My best friends in Guangzhou are all married to Chinese men and have mixed kids.

22. My favorite Chinese dishes are spicy cabbage, mapo tofu and eggplant with long beans.

23. Summer 2005 I took my first one week course in Chinese language, but I started studying more actively only in 2008 when I started university in Finland.

24. I love taking photos of doors, I must have hundreds of pictures of old and rusty Chinese doors.

25. Places I want to visit in the near future are Macao and Yunnan province.

26. Longest time I’ve been away from Finland is 2.5 years, looking back I’m not even sure why I stayed away that long. Now I must go back every year, in the future hopefully twice a year.

27. I loved being pregnant because no need to suck your tummy in! I gained 20kg, but felt super condifent and loved the belly. Being pregnant in China also always guarentees you a seat in public transportation.

28. I met my husband when a bunch of friends got together to cheer up a common friend who had just broken up with his girlfriend. Me and my husband just couldn’t stop talking!

29. I had only one student today (everyone else is traveling) and I love being at the office all by my self for the whole day! As a mother of a 2 year old, I don’t get to be alone at home anymore.

30. I feel good at being 30! I’ve never wanted to be younger than I was, as each year gives me more expriences, hopefully a little bit of wisdom too. During the coming year there are a few challenges I want to overcome and a few dreams to pursue. More on those later!

Happy Birthday me!


A 2-year-old learning Chinese and Finnish

When our daughter started speaking she spoke mostly Cantonese as she was home with a nanny a lot. But now Mandarin had completely replaced it and Finnish is a good second.

At home I speak Finnish with Anna and my husband speaks Mandarin. She goes to daycare where she hears both Mandarin and Japanese. Cantonese she hears once a week at the grand parents house and English occasionally when we meet friends.

Anna has now clearly entered a phase of rapid language learning. She is starting to form sentences like 佩奇睡觉 Peppa is sleeping and 佩奇哪里啊 Where is Peppa. Yes, Peppa Pig is hugely popular at our household.

In Finnish she isn’t forming sentences yet, but knows a lot of words. Some words she only uses Finnish, some she knows in Mandarin as well. Anna calls me mama (mother) in Chinese and only just today said äiti (mother in Finnish) after I told her to use that term. Not sure when she will change to äiti for real.

Anna doesn’t separate the languages yet in a sense that she would speak only Finnish to me or only Chinese to daddy. Of course she knows I understand Chinese too. And my husband have learned some Finnish from Anna as well!

Right now Anna is big on giving orders: syö (eat in Finnish), 坐 (sit in Chinese) just to name two. She had strong opinions and preferences as well.

Anna likes to look at pictures and say the names of items and animals, if she doesn’t know it she will ask us. She likes repeating what we say and is learning new words almost daily.

We feel Anna had a bit of foreign accent in both her Mandarin and Finnish, but it’s a first time for us so don’t know if that happens with all kids.

At the daycare Anna is very quiet, just saying 要 want and 不要 don’t want. Typical introverted Finnish! But at home she speaks nonstop, most of it we don’t yet understand.

I feel this is going to be super interesting this coming year to see how Anna’s languages improve. Can’t wait to communicate more with her!