Raising an Expat Kid in China: Who is a Third Culture Kid?

Who is a Third Culture Kid
“Imagine there’s no countries…it’s easy if you try…”

These are the words of self-described dreamer and world traveler John Lennon; but also a reality for every child, because for them, there aren’t any countries, there is only their world, and their surroundings. They learn from birth through their own experiences, their parental upbringing, their extended family, from their lessons and teachers at school, their society’s rules and morals, and their peer groups to identify themselves as (insert nation here).

But imagine your child’s school has an international or foreign curriculum. Imagine that the society that surrounds them is totally foreign. Imagine that their peer group doesn’t have a single child that is from the same country as them. When parents decide to live in a another country they don’t have to imagine these situations, they must deal with the reality of raising a “Third Culture Kid”.

“Third Culture Kids”

Third Culture Kids, or TCK, the term for children that grow up in a foreign land, was first put forth by David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken in their book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds. Pollock and VanReken offer a wealth of data, stories, and information on a variety of different types of TCKs, and there is a lot of data! [Read more…]

Luxury Chinese Spa Experience

D Club SpaD-Club Spa, Shenzhen, China

There are endless options for spa and massage centers in Shenzhen, all offering a very different experience to a typical western luxury hotel spa. I teach at a private English language school in Shenzhen, and Sylvia, one of my lovely Chinese VIP students was keen to introduce me, my partner Ian and another English friend Chris, to one of Shenzhen’s high end spas known as D-Club, in the Futian district, close to Xiangmi Lake.

Sylvia informed us that we could stay for 24 hours from our time of arrival. All we needed to bring was a swimming costume. Everything else apparently, would be provided. I was intrigued and slightly fearful of Chinese surprises, so I decided to take a quick look online to see what we could expect.

Surprisingly the website had an English translation and I was instantly reassured by discovering that I would “slow down my always busy footsteps” and “surely be unable to control my joyance from the bottom of my heart”. OK, more Chinglish than English, but nevertheless I was impressed by the facilities and decided this Chinese adventure would be a welcome reprieve from Shenzhen city life.

Sylvia picked the three of us up at the appointed time and it wasn’t long before we arrived at what looked more like a Disney themed castle, just off the Qiaoxiang Road and close to the Xiangmi metro on the Shekou line. We parked amongst Lamborghinis, Ferraris and matt black Porsche’s before making our way to the huge elaborate lobby.
[Read more…]

The list of blocked websites in China – Updated 2015

list of blocked websites in china

You probably already know that sites such as Facebook, Youtube or Google.com are blocked in China and that the only way to access them is with a VPN.

But what about the other hundreds of web sites that we normally use?

Are we sure that they’ll work in China?

One of the most frequent questions we receive is if a certain website or app, such as Dropbox Google Play, is blocked in China.

In this article we’ll list all web sites, which at the moment, don’t work beyond the Great Firewall of China, or the system developed by the Ministry of Public Security, (MPS) to control access to websites considered “dangerous” for Chinese citizens. [Read more…]

Travel to Datong and Pingyao: The Guide

Travel to DatongThe Hanging Temples in Datong

This travel guide was co-authored by Helen Wang and Harley Greenberg of WindhorseTour.com, a local China travel agency developed to help guide travelers across China including Tibet and less visited destinations like Datong and Pingyao.

Datong and Pingyao are both located within China’s Shanxi province. Both areas are of great historical significance. These historic landmarks in China are filled with beautiful classical Chinese architecture from the Ming, Qing and Zhou dynasties.

You can take this opportunity to experience a large range of different climates, architecture, and culture.

If you are planning a visit to China, these locations would be high on the list of choices. I personally love the rustic charm and classic look of these cities. The cobblestone roads are always a great touch. Unless you happen to have to drive on that cobblestone, that can be annoying (luckily there won’t be too much of that).

In this guide I will highlight:

  • A little history of Datong and Pingyao;
  • How to get to Datong and Pingyao.
  • What a tour to these locations will include;
  • Where to stay in Datong and Pingyao;
  • The four renowned ancient cities of China.
  • The weather in Shanxi province;

[Read more…]

Visit to the Nuthouse – From Furio’s old diaries

visit to the neuro

Disclaimer: This history is part of a sea of personal reflections that I collected during my first year in China. Despite having changed the names of all people mentioned, the facts – as improbable as they might seem – all really happened.

Spoiler Alert: This series is extremely explicit and contains a high level of sarcasm. If, for some reason, you might take offense, I would then recommend the Junior Woodchucks Guidebook : ).

Index: Click here to read all stories in this series in chronological order (however this is the first one).

Satisfaction is the death of desire,” Anonymous.

My woman left me

My woman left me.

By now at the threshold of my thirties I ask myself yet again why I continue to fall for girls so quickly. Yet I saw from the beginning with Yang Yang that it would end badly: she lived in another part of the city, spoke English with great difficulty and to top it off was very traditional.

But despite knowing my errors I need to be emotionally involved to fully enjoy a relationship. And I suppose this intermittent frustration is the price to pay for my disarming lack of self control. I tried to concentrate on work but it was useless. I sent her a final message:

“Did you dump me because I’m Italian?”

She showed up in chat, and in what is close to English wrote:

“Don’t be sad, our communication very difficult, hard to explain my thoughts to you.”

I confessed that yes, I was sad. Then I asked if she was afraid.

“I like serious attitude, I’ve always went to look my future man for all the ages. I think we should end it to avoid big problems.”

Here’s where the Google automatic translator must have gone to smoke a Marlboro. [Read more…]

Travel to Gansu: The Complete Guide

Shadows of camels on Mingsha ShanCamel trekking was one of my favourite activities in Gansu province

In this guide to travel in Gansu you will find:

For more general information about traveling in China such as visas, vaccinations, flights, food etc. be sure to check out this epic 4,000 word complete guide to traveling in China. Just skip to the sections you are most interested in!
[Read more…]

My Big Chinese Wedding

my big chinese wedding

Today’s article is dedicated to all the people who have asked me what a Chinese wedding is like, if it really lasts a week, what the bride wears, is there a dragon dance, and thousands of other questions I can’t remember.

No, I’m not going to tell you about my wedding. Why would I want to talk about how ridiculous I was during my wedding when I can talk about other people?

The invitation

My story starts on a random November day, when I get home from a “hard day’s work” and Luna (my girlfriend), comes up to me and tells me:

The first Friday in December you’re not going to work!
No? Why?,” I respond.
We’ve been invited to a wedding and we’re the godparents!
OK, who’s getting married?
My best friend from my hometown is getting married!
Who’s she marrying? The last time we visited she didn’t have a boyfriend, right?
I don’t know. I think it’s a guy she met five months ago.

Holy shit, that’s what I call an express relationship. Is that the secret to marriage? Not worrying too much about who you let in your bed? And most of all, what’s the point of looking for a suitable partner when your parents can do the work for you?” I think, but don’t say, as to not offend her.

The trip

Being the godparents of the bride, in the end we are obliged to arrive one day early to participate in the wedding rehearsal. So, Thursday morning we head to Luna’s “town.”

The so-called town is no more than one of those tiny places in China that only has a little more than five million inhabitants. Specifically, I am referring to Jiaozuo in the Henan province, famous for being the birthplace of Taiji.

In the middle of the afternoon, we arrive at the wedding hotel, after more than six hours of traveling:

First, we spent four comfortable hours on the bullet train to the closest city, Xinxiang, two hours on a bus, which in this area tend to leave when they feel like it, and finally, twenty minutes in a taxi. Mission accomplished!

The rehearsal

Arriving at the hotel, we head to the reception hall, where the wedding agency is preparing the decorations for the big day. Good God! I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so tacky…

It would be hard to describe Chinese people’s strange idea of what a romantic atmosphere is (see photo to get an idea). What catches my attention the most is that right in the middle of the aisle that the bride has to go down, they decided to place an altar with classical Greek-style cardboard columns.

chinese wedding

When we enter the room, my white devil face causes the expected effect in these latitudes of the interior of China. Not more than two seconds go by before everyone in the room is staring at me. Luckily, the father of the bride comes to my rescue, saying:

来来咱们一起喝酒” (Come, come, let’s have a drink together.)

Without thinking twice, I sit down with the father of the bride to try to get out of the uncomfortable situation. Luckily, the family members aren’t long in getting back to their frantic activity of devouring tons of sunflower seeds (瓜子) while chatting.

Upon sitting down, I realized that the father is already way ahead of me, as his red face and baijiu breath leave no room for doubt. While serving me a glass of baijiu and offering me a smoke, he starts to talk to me in an almost shout:

Good thing you came, as I’m fed up with these Han. Did you know? I’m ethnic Mongol and am a direct descendant of Genghis Khan

Shit, this Genghis Khan must be the Adam of the Mongol people. When I was in Mongolia, everyone also claimed to be direct descendants of Genghis Khan. Where did he find the time to conquer half of Asia? I imagine that making kids was a full-time job! ” I think, while the father kept on bragging about his noble origins.

Next, he goes on to his shouted argument, in case the table at the back of the room can’t hear what he is saying to me.

We, the Mongol people and you, the laowai, aren’t like the Han, are we? Damned Han, always the same, marrying, having kids, making money, buying a house and most of all, not going out with friends. We don’t want that; we love our freedom, right?

I sit down and glance to the side to his wife’s face (of Han ethnicity), and she doesn’t look very happy. I think that my new friend is going to sleep on the couch today. Nonetheless, I admire his boldness to criticize Han Chinese in a room full of them. It must be the blood of Genghis Khan running through his veins…

His speech continues for more than half an hour and spares nobody. Luckily, the guy in charge of organizing the wedding calls us over for the rehearsal.

The pre-ceremony

An important part of Chinese weddings is the pre-ceremony, where friends and family members gather in the house of the family of the bride or groom, and in our case, the bride.

So, at eight in the morning we arrive at the bride’s house, where around twenty people are already drinking tea (or baijiu), smoking and eating seeds. The father is kind enough to invite me to sit with the guests and introduces me to each of them. Luna then abandons me to my luck and goes to help her friend. The looks of surprise on the faces of the guests due to the strange arrival of the ape-man, or rather, me, quickly move on to an intense questioning period upon discovering that I can understand them.

If that’s not enough, it seems like everyone wants to offer me tobacco, which to be polite, I am unable to decline. One hour and more than twenty cigarettes later, I want to die. However, I am forced to keep it up for almost three hours.

Finally, at eleven, the groom arrives at the house accompanied by around ten friends. Upon entering, the family members of the bride block their way, while the friends of the bride hide in her bedroom, closing the door. The groom and his friends make their way through the family members by pushing and bribing them with red envelopes (filled with money).

When they finally get to the door of the bride’s room, they try to force their way in while shouting that they open the door. Inside, the bride’s friends yell that they aren’t going to let them in and block the door. At this point, the negotiating starts. This is China; you need to bargain even at a wedding.

The groom and his friends start to push red envelopes under the door and the bride’s friends demand more and more of them, as well as other proof of his love such as singing songs or reciting poems. At a certain point, the bride’s friends become distracted by so many red envelopes that they neglect their duties and the groom’s friends manage to open the door.

get married in china

When it seems that the groom has finally managed to overcome all the obstacles, he realizes that the bride doesn’t have shoes. Her friends hid them and without shoes, there is no wedding…

After searching the whole room, the groom and his friends find the two shoes and can finally proceed. At this point, everyone goes out in front of the house, where several high-end black cars are waiting to take everyone to the hotel.

Before continuing…

Before continuing my story of my first wedding as a godfather, I need to write an introduction on what a Chinese wedding is.

While many people claim to be religious in China, in practice, more than 90% of the population doesn’t practice any type of religion, because of which the majority of weddings aren’t religious.

In China, civil weddings don’t exist like they do in the West; that’s to say, the day of the wedding doesn’t coincide with the day on which the marriage is registered, and normally the wedding is celebrated weeks or even months after having signed the papers.

Weddings in China are a ceremony in which the marriage is presented to family and friends. In addition, not being neither religious or civil, the ceremony is a sort of stage play conducted by the wedding agency. Whatever!

Finally, as they are a sort of show, each wedding is different. In fact, currently, the majority of weddings in China are a strange mix of Chinese and Western traditions which doesn’t make sense. Nonetheless, the Chinese divide them into two types, traditional or modern.

The inappropriately named traditional weddings continue to combine Chinese and Western elements and are distinguished by the fact that the bride and groom dress in red-colored traditional Chinese outfits (Qing dynasty). On the other hand, “modern” weddings imitate Christian weddings, obviously adding touches of Chinese traditions, and in these weddings, the bride dresses in white and the groom in a suit.

traditional chinese wedding A clear example of a “traditional Chinese wedding,” in the foreground the person in charge of conducting the wedding (probably an employee of the wedding agency), and in the background, the bride and groom with traditional outfits and beside them, their parents. On the right, someone has infiltrated the wedding, and even though everything is possible in China, no, he isn’t topless!

Finally… the wedding

When we get to the reception hall, I have to pass by the cash register first; that’s to say, I need to deposit my red envelope at the entrance, where two volunteers open it and note my name and the money I brought (without commenting).

Upon entering the room, which is set up for around two to three hundred people, I take a look around and notice something: aside from the groom and the groom’s father, I am the best dressed. If I look, I would likely find someone who came in pajamas!

I sit down at my table, trying to attract the least attention possible. It isn’t my wedding and I don’t want to have to take thousands of pictures with the guests.

Right away, the show starts. A guy dressed in an electric pink jacket and a modern hairdo gets up onto the stage and starts to recite something that I don’t even try to understand while the background is filled with intolerable Chinese pop, without forgetting (obviously) the light show with hearts moving around everywhere.

In an attempt to pry my gaze away from this grotesque spectacle, I realize that the room is still half-empty and that many of the guests haven’t even arrived yet. I know that the show is pathetic, but arriving late at a wedding seems disrespectful to me. In fact, the guests arrive bit by bit, even when the wedding is already over, just to try the “free” food.

Getting back to the wedding, when the presenter finishes his speech (the only thing lacking was for him to sing a song or tell jokes), he calls the groom onto the stage and the typical song for Western weddings begins to play. At that moment, the bride appears with the direct descendant of Genghis Khan, who doesn’t look very happy.

The bride and the father walk along the aisle between the tables and stop at the classical Greek-style cardboard altar, where the groom has gone to meet them. The father hands the bride’s hand to the groom and as they taught him during the day of the reception, he tries to put an expression of pain on his face for handing over his daughter. However, the only thing I can see is a face of hate, as if he were saying: “Put that hand any closer and I’ll cut it off. Let’s see if you’ll be worthy of touching my daughter later.

Overcoming the tense moment, the bride and groom exchange vows and the presenter calls me to bring the rings and finally, he marries them to the sound of the applause of the guests, who forget for one moment the mountain of peanuts in front of them.

Afterwards, the bride and groom head to pay their respects to each other’s family, bowing on their knees and afterwards offering them tea they have prepared. After that, the moment everyone is waiting for arrives… THE BANQUET.

While the new couple dedicate themselves to going from table to table and toasting with each of the guests to thank them for coming, enormous amounts of food start to arrive. As expected, the guests start to devour it as if their lives depended on it.

One hour later, the majority of the guests are stuffed to the brim and because of that, it’s time to go.

However, many people think:

Hey! I put 100 Yuan in the red envelope, I should ask the waitress to pack up the leftovers to go; that way I can eat all week for free!

This is how one Friday at one in the afternoon, I found myself more than 700 kilometers from my house, completely drunk, with lungs that felt like bursting because of so much smoking and without anything to do in a practically empty room.

So… how was your Big Chinese Wedding?

[Photo Credits (Creative Commons License): www.flickr.com/photos/kajiyoji69/ (traditional wedding) www.flickr.com/photos/115529034@N02/ (all the rest)]

The Best VPNs for China: How to access Facebook behind the Great Wall

Best VPN for China

The first part of this article explains what a VPN is and how it can be used to access Facebook, YouTube and the other websites that are currently blocked in China.

The second part is a comparative review of VyprVPN, StrongVPN and ExpressVPN, which are in my opinion the three best VPN services for China. We’ll compare prices, functionality and the performance of the three VPNs.

Click here if you want to jump directly to the comparison!

What is a VPN and why do I need it in China?

As you probably already know, the internet doesn’t work like we wish it did in China and a large number of websites are blocked by the “Great Firewall”. Among the websites that you can’t access there are Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Google+.

There are many other blocked websites, and depending on what you do, it will be virtually impossible for you to work in China without a VPN (Virtual Private Network) from China. The most striking case is probably given by Google.com, which often returns an error message when used from within the Middle Kingdom.

But there is still hope…

In order to solve this problem, you can install a VPN, which masks your I.P. address so that your laptop appears to be connected from the U.S. or Japan even if you are in China.

[Read more…]

The guide on what and where to eat in Shanghai

Shanghai food

If you’re about to travel or move to Shanghai and are dying to try some typical cuisine but don’t know where to start, then this article is for you.

But before describing my favorite dishes, I would like to make a promise: China is larger than Europe and possesses a comparable variety of cuisines – actually, in my opinion it’s even greater than the Old Continent.

The difference is that due to the one way immigration that has seen an enormous quantity of workers from nearly every Chinese province stream to the great coastal metropolises, in Shanghai it’s possible to try any typical dish from all parts of China – prepared according to original recipes and ingredients – without leaving the historic center, or the Puxi area that extends from the Huangpu River to the east, as far as Zhongshan Park to the west.

Since it would be a sin to come to China and then limit yourself to only dishes from Shanghai, whose cuisine is known as Benbang Cai (that literally means “local cuisine”), I’ll tell you about ten dishes – or styles of cooking – that you can find in Shanghai. [Read more…]

[Contest is Closed] Win a Yearly FluentU Plan (value 180 USD) Here at SDC!

Ni hao!

Yesterday we published a review of FluentU, a database of YouTube videos in Mandarin with subtitles (and much more).

If you’re studying Chinese, you shall check it!

Anyway, today I’m writing to you because the FluentU’s team decided to give away one of their yearly plan (180 USD of value) to one lucky reader of SDC.

In order to enter the contest, just click here and follow the instructions.

The contest will close on Friday 5 June at 11 PM, Lodon time. We’ll award the prize on Monday 8 June (we’ll contact the winner by email).