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Red Is for Love and Marriage

When it comes to love, the Chinese are very pragmatic. Talking to some of my colleagues, it seems that the checklist to love (at least for women), included the following as the main priorities:

  • Is he wealthy?
  • What is his job and where does he work?
  • Does he come from a good family?

Even in the Philippines, the Filipino – Chinese are known for marrying within their community and only if both parties are at the same level of life (e.g. both rich or both with family businesses, etc.) God forbid those who dare to breach what we jokingly call as the “Great Wall of China”, for heartbreak will surely await them.

In fact, to the outsider, marriage in China appears to be more often than not like a merger between two companies (families benefiting from each other) rather than the union of two people in love.

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If not for a mutually beneficial relationship, then marriage may come as the result of family pressure. A friend told me that every time he goes back to his hometown, all he hears about from his relatives are questions about his unmarried state. Apparently, this is a common experience for many Chinese singles. That’s why in Chinese e-commerce sites like Taobao, hire-a-girlfriend services are popular especially during the holidays when people who work in China’s business districts are obliged to go back to their hometowns.

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For women, the fear of being cast as a leftover is also a consideration for marriage. Chinese society, propelled by portrayals in media, consider unmarried women above 27, who have invested more time in developing their career rather than building a family, to be living a miserable and pitiful existence. Therefore, women are heavily pressured to avoid this situation by getting married as quickly as possible.

Yet come to think of it, all the points above are not exclusive to Chinese society. It prevails everywhere, except that the Chinese, at least, are more honest and open about it. Looking at it from a more cynical perspective, I see that more and more people everywhere marry for the convenience and security that such a union can provide.

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That’s not to say, though, that it’s impossible to find love in China. After all, I found mine here.

What do you think about marriage? Do you have the same experience as the observations I made above?

About This Look:

  • Red coat from a local store in Gongyuanqian Metro
  • Black jumper and gloves from H&M
  • Jeans from Penshoppe
  • Boots and bag from Zara
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The Sichuan Huǒ Guō (Spicy Hot Pot) Experience

Before I even went to China, I had romantic expectations about its food due to its portrayal in Western media. I remember watching a documentary about Sichuan (or Szechwan in English) cuisine where an old Chinese chef talked about how the food he served in his family restaurant dated back to some decades ago and was passed on from generation to generation. He spoke about his food with passion and I remembered thinking that every spoonful of his food must have rich nuances of his family’s history in its taste.

When I arrived in China, however, I was, to say the least, underwhelmed by how Chinese cuisine actually was. Perhaps the oily, fatty fares served in our company canteen was to blame. Each dish in that canteen didn’t seem like it was prepared with passion, but rather with sloppy, careless haste. The dishes in the small eateries that locals frequented near my apartment wasn’t any better either.

All hope is not lost, however. As vast as China’s territory is, so is its culinary offers. My first taste of good Chinese food was a home-cooked meal by a friend whose hometown is Chaozhou City, known for its delicious food. From this, I realized that maybe I was just looking for tasty Chinese food in the wrong places. Good thing my work colleagues love going to restaurants so I get to taste different kinds of Chinese food.

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One of the more popular dishes here is the hot pot, where you basically put all kinds of ingredients (from meat to vegetables) in a boiling pot of seasoned water. There are all kinds of hot pot too! One time, we went to a restaurant that specializes in having sweet coconut juice as their soup base. Another time, we went to a place that served fish in a sour, spicy broth. Last Friday, we finally went to Sichuan hot pot, known for the ridiculously spicy soup that will surely make your tears (and snot) run while you’re eating it.

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As soon as we stepped into the restaurant, my nose started itching from the spice steaming from various hot pots all over the room. When I looked at the red hot soup boiling in our hot pot and the countless chopped chilies floating in it, I was almost too scared to try it. Good thing that for those who don’t like their food spicy, there was a tiny bowl in the center with a non-spicy soup base. But of course, I did try the spicy hot pot. My motto is when it comes to food, I got to try everything at least once!

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And that includes the gooey pieces of brain shown in the photo above. Boiled in the hot pot, of course!

So, did the Sichuan Spicy Hot Pot bring me to tears?

Sadly, not! It would have been a much more interesting story if it did. There was much coughing, however, from the steam rising from the pot. Indeed, the food was spicy, but since I learned that people didn’t drink the red soup, you do not really feel the spice. Plus, there was a sesame dip that flavored the food and also reduced the spiciness.

The more humorous thing about the experience though was trying to identify the stuff they put in the hot pot. Aside from animal brains, intestines, and stomachs, there were also some stuff that none of us could figure out what the English translation was. An example is something literally translated as a “Leopard’s Tongue,” but it was far from being an actual tongue and more like a tentacle or jelly.

My boss summed up the experience quite nicely when he said, “I guess that anything will be edible after you boil it to death!”

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Another interesting was how the served hot water for tea using these kettles with ridiculously long spouts (as seen in the photo above). It’s quite terrifying every time the waitress comes to pour hot water because when she raises the spout, you’re not quite sure if she’ll manage to spill hot water on you. I spent part of the meal cowering behind someone every time she came to pour the water.

The verdict?

The Sichuan Huǒ Guō is definitely an interesting experience. If you like spicy broths and enjoy eating a communal meal with friends where you can marvel at the different ingredients available for boiling, then you might like to go for a Sichuan Hot Pot.Just a word of warning, your clothes and hair will definitely smell like the food you ate long after you left the restaurant. :)

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Ràng wǒmen yīqǐ qù gōngyuán ba? (Let’s go to the park?)

I had what I thought was a brilliant idea of adding Pīnyīn (Latin alphabet version of Chinese characters) to some of my blog posts’ titles to help me learn and practice my Mandarin. When I told my boyfriend this idea, however, he scoffed at me and said that if I would only do just that, then it will take me forever to learn. Well, in some ways, he is right. Yet, I still think it’s better to make an effort, although small, rather than not at all.

That being said, let me proceed to the main subject of this post, which is the issue of public spaces. In the Philippines, or at least in Metro Manila, it is not common for people to go to parks or plazas for recreation. I think that is mainly because there is a lack of adequately safe and interesting parks in the Metro. Because of this, Filipinos prefer to go to shopping malls where it is much more secure and more forms of entertainment are available.

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Such is not the case in Guangzhou. Here, there are many places where people can gather or find some quiet spot to reflect. Each district in the city has a park or two and these parks are not just a few square meters in size. Some are massive, like Yuexiu Park where you can find the iconic Five Ram Statue, and will take you at least half a day to explore its entirety. The parks are well planned, often with walking trails, private nooks with benches or pagodas, bamboo – lined pathways, lakes and ponds, statues and fountains, and grassy patches lined with flowers. You will even find wide assembly areas where people often gather for public performances, dancing or tai chi.

Believe me, in parks here, you will often see a lot of people, young and old, dancing unabashedly or singing in front of an audience. One time, while I was in Tianhe Park, I witnessed at least 4 different groups of people just 1 to 2 meters away from each other. Each group was dancing to their own music blasting from speakers. Just imagine hearing traditional Chinese music, K-Pop, ballroom, and classical music played at maximum volume all at once. Your ears will definitely struggle not to burst from the cacophony.

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Parks are also often used as a venue for exercising. Aside from joggers and cyclists, a common scene is old men and women walking backwards, as if they’re doing the moon walk. I’m not quite sure how walking backwards is better than walking normally fitness-wise, so if you know the reason, can you enlighten me?

Another thing I observed during the summer was a lot of men at the park walking around with their shirts raised and tucked around their midriff, as if they were wearing cropped tops. I saw this so often even in the metro, that my friends and I started to jokingly refer to this as Chinese men’s fashion. When I asked about this, someone told me that in China, big bellies represent a prosperous and wealthy life. That’s why men here proudly bare their bellies for the world to see!

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Despite the popularity of parks among the locals, there remains to be plenty of space in most of them for quiet, solitary reflection. If you’re not too lazy to explore, you will surely find a private corner where you can ponder upon the deeper meaning of life and find your zen.

My boyfriend, who enjoys his solitude, told me about how he once found a peaceful seat in a pagoda in Tianhe Park enclosed by a bamboo grove. Across him was an old man who played the violin.  Everyday at lunch, he went to the same place and the man would also be there playing tune after soulful tune. He sat there quietly, listening to the man’s music accompanied by the soft rustle of leaves as the breeze brushed past them. They never talked or looked at each other. They just took delight in the communal peace they shared.

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If you happen to be at a park near the Pearl River, then you’re in for a treat! Be sure to be by the riverside at sunset and witness the glorious moment when the sun slowly makes its descent, bursting with radiant hues before it plunges the world into darkness. Then, if you stay long enough, you will see Guangzhou come alive as lights from signs and buildings begin to the dot the horizon. Trust me, this is the perfect time for an intimate walk involving some heartfelt conversations. :)

There’s a quote that says, “Life is not a walk in a park.” In China, however, walking in the park offers an interesting slice of life.

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Nǐ huì shuō Zhōngwén ma? (Can You Speak Chinese?)

One of the most common questions people ask me when they find out I that I currently reside in China is this: “So, can you already speak Chinese?”

The honest answer is NO, not by a long shot.

Well, sure I know some words, characters, and numbers. Also, I know enough to order a meal or go  shopping and bargain with the shop keepers, but my knowledge is barely 1% of all there is to know about the Chinese language. (And by saying “Chinese”, I’m actually just referring to Mandarin. There are so many other local dialects/languages other than it.)

My workmate told me that even if a person studies a hundred years to learn Chinese, it will still not be enough to perfect it. After attempting to learn it, I can say that I totally agree.

984471329 1397952041The first thing I learned when I got a tutor to give me Chinese lessons is tones – 1. , 2. , 3. mǎ, 4. , ma (neutral). If you have already attempted to learn Chinese at one point in your life, I bet you read that in a singsong voice, implementing the tones. Right?

Even though this was the first thing I learned about Mandarin, it remains to be the most challenging part of my Chinese education. You see, you have to get the tones right or people more often than not won’t understand what you mean. For example, in the Metro, the loudspeaker announcing the stops always pronounce my station ( 潭村, Tan2 Cun1) as “Tan4-Chun4″ in its English version. That’s why during my first months here, no taxi driver could understand where I wanted to go because I kept repeating this wrong pronunciation. Only after I learned the tones did the cabbies get where I wanted to go.

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Another challenging thing is that people here speak so fast! When they do so, it gets difficult to determine the tones so sometimes, even if I know the words, I cannot identify it when they start speaking. Many times, I encountered some people asking me questions that I thought I didn’t understand, but later on realized that I actually knew what they meant when my thought process finally caught up with the rush of words. Often, these realizations come too late, after I’ve already said, “Tīng bù dǒng”! Literally translated as “I hear you, but I don’t understand.”

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Yet, probably the phrase I use most often is “Wǒ bú shì Zhōng Guó rén. Wǒ shì fēi lù bīn rén” (I am not Chinese. I am Filipino.) This is because almost all strangers I meet here (even foreigners) assume that I am Chinese or if I fail to say that I am Filipino, that I am Japanese/Korean. Can’t blame them. Come to think of it, I do look Chinese. For that, I have to thank my grandfather who was originally from Fujian Province.

At the moment, I have stopped studying Chinese (partly because my tutor got married and because lessons were expensive). This will surely not help my goal to at least learn enough to converse properly, but hopefully I will find some other way to learn it (if I am able to combat my laziness).

How about you? Have you ever attempted to learn Mandarin? Do you know other Chinese languages/dialects?

Outfit Details:

  • Green turtleneck top from a local store in Gongyuanqian Metro Station
  • Leggings from a street seller in Yuancun
  • Coat from Banggood.com also featured here
  • Knit hat and boots with the fur from H&M
  • Bag from Zara
  • Eyewear from Forever 21
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I’m Not Dreaming After All

After a year and a half in Guangzhou, it has finally sunk in that China is more than just a stopover in my life. When I first arrived, every day felt like a dream, like someone else was living my life here and I was just a spectator in the sidelines waiting for this particular scene to move on so that I can finally participate again. It look awhile for this feeling to pass. It was only when I finally made the conscious decision that I will stay in China that I began to feel that all this was actually happening to me.

The moment this realization dawned on me, I remembered laughing hysterically in disbelief, in acceptance, in pure joy! Who would have thought that I’d end up here? Yet, here I am!

“Yes! I’m in China! I’m actually living in China!”

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And somehow, despite the difficulties of living away from my family and home country, I feel like I’m slowly carving myself a niche here. I am claiming a little corner of China’s 3 million or so square miles and because of that, I don’t feel so lonely anymore. In fact, I actually feel quite happy to be here.

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So, whenever someone asks me if I see myself living here for awhile, the answer is undoubtedly yes. Despite the many things that can make living here difficult (e.g. censored internet, lack of food options), it has taught me how to simplify my life so that I focus more on the things that matter like the people I love and the goals I want to achieve. For that, I am very thankful.

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If I were to define what China meant for me, I’d say that China is the dream that never even crossed my mind. Yet one day, it landed on my lap and as I began to understand it, I realize that it’s what I’ve wanted all along.

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About My Look:

  • Outerwear (Hoodie), slip dress, bag, and shoes, all from Zara. (Yes, I love Zara. I feel like their stuff were made with me in mind)
  • Black, long sleeved top worn under the dress for extra warmth is from Promod
  • Leggings and socks are from H&M
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Summer Girl Meets Winter

For someone who has lived in a country where the temperature is above 20 degrees Celsius for most of the year, winter, even in Guangzhou where it doesn’t really snow, can be unforgiving. Until last year, I didn’t know the full implications of having to bear the cold for at least 4 months. Although at first I was very excited at the thought of experiencing winter, in the end, I was dreading every cold, grey day that came and praying fervently for summer to come sooner.

Because winter in Guangzhou is not as cold as in the north of China, the buildings here are not equipped for the cold weather. For example, although most houses have air-conditioning to fight against the sweltering heat of summer, almost none have heaters. When we asked real estate agents about this, most of them would say that it doesn’t really get cold here, so there’s no need. In actuality though, a house with no heater in 8 degrees Celsius can get really cold. Think about sliding into a cold bed and getting wrapped with your equally cold blanket. You have to endure those horrible minutes while you’re waiting for your body to warm up the sheets.

This light fixture in my apartment reminds me of icicles in winter. :)

This light fixture in my apartment reminds me of icicles in winter. :)

At least in truly cold countries, you get a reprieve from the cold the moment you step into a building or your house. Yet here, houses offer no escape from the cold so you end up wearing your warmest clothes even inside the house. Plus, since it doesn’t snow, I feel cheated about having to endure the cold without the benefits of at least seeing beautiful snow!

My only consolation this year, though, is that I have learned from last year’s mistake of trying to wear summer clothes during winter. This year, I bought myself some warm knit jackets, a couple of coats, a few pairs of boots, plenty of leggings and socks, a hat, and several pairs of gloves to keep me warm. Hopefully, winter this year will be warmer and better.

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Also, I thought about documenting my experience this year by posting on my blog again. After almost a year of inactivity, I actually feel like I miss blogging and writing for myself. So, if anyone still reads my blog, please expect some more blog entries, including outfit posts, in the coming days.

By the way, if you do happen to read this entry, please leave a comment below. I would love to hear from my blog readers again! :)

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Outfit details:

  • White button down from Zara
  • Skirt from a street vendor in ZhuangYuan Fang
  • Long knitted cardigan from a street vendor in ZhuangYuan Fang
  • Boots from Zara
  • Beanie and leggings from H&M
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I Think About You in Black and White

Black reminds me of you.

Not in a Gothic sense, but because there seems to be a secret hidden in your every move. The way your eyes shutter close when I look too closely, your quiet half-smile that you don’t feel the need to explain, the wrinkle between your brows when your thoughts drift far away…

I want to know what they mean. What drives you? What goes through your mind?

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Black enshrouds you, keeping you away from me. It follows you around, its invisible hands pushing me back whenever I try to move closer to you.

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Black is your armor. It protects you from even from those you say you love. Yet, it is also what makes you vulnerable. In the dark, when my body is pressed against yours, I hear your heart beat steadily as you open yourself to me, one painful layer at a time. I cling to you to offer comfort. You welcome me into your private space.

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White is the soft light that filters through your windows every morning. I like to watch you sleep while white light moves slowly across your skin. First it touches the tips of your lashes,  it creeps its way down to your lips, slightly parted in sleep, then teasingly skims down your body banishing with it the dark.

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I carry this picture of you throughout the day. You bathed in white is when I most feel that you are mine.

I often think about you in black and white: black is the self that you are yet to reveal, white are the moments that tie me to you.