Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet

I just saw the news that Sinterklaas came to Hong Kong and, like everywhere in the world now, caused much controversy. Sinterklaas, Belgian’s and Dutch’ Santa Claus is surrounded by his servants, white people painted black in Moor’s clothes with a black wig.

I am from Belgium and I grew up with this. I never thought much of it, although when I tell this to all expats who don’t know this tradition, they are shocked and find it racist beyond means. Everyone outside of the Netherlands and Belgium think that we should abandon this tradition. But… it is our tradition. I want my children to know Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet. A Sinterklaas without his helpers are not the same. It would be taking the reindeers from Santa Claus.

I know that it is because it is people painted in black paint, but I never thought much of it. These servants were there to take the bad children with them. I didn’t grow up being afraid of black people (even though, I was not exposed to black people. I never saw a ‘real’ black person until I was a teenager). But, even though these Zwarte Pieten (Black Petes) were always teasing to take you away because you might have been naughty, I was more afraid of this big white man with his long white beard as he had a book in where it was written on how bad and how many times I had been bad throughout the year.

This is the tradition: Sinterklaas (St Nicolas) is coming on 6 December (in Belgium) and on 5 December (in Holland). He comes by ship from Spain together with his servants. He goes through the chimney and gives toys, chocolate and biscuits to the children. He had a white horse to carry all the toys. So, we would put a carrot and some sugar in our shoes and put it in front of the chimney for the horse. The morning of 6 December, we would go downstairs and the living room was full of toys, chocolate and biscuits, sometimes hidden, so we had to look behind the sofa and so on.

It is a beautiful tradition. I remember all the stories around it. We have hundreds of songs to sing around that festival. We really believed everything of it, until the age of 8 and our parents told us that they bought the toys and sweets. Every school, every shopping mall, every company had their Sinterklaas. And even, when I worked at a company, the morning of the December 6, we would have sweets lying on our desk (if you had a generous boss). The whole of Belgium and the Netherlands are very excited and have much fun during that time. We don’t really have a Santa Claus, which is an American tradition that now came to Belgium as well, like Halloween.

So, don’t take away local traditions, we are being Americanized too much already!


Bridge between East and West

On Wednesday evening November 15, my husband and I went to Guangzhou to celebrate the Belgian King’s Day. There was a delegation from Belgium of ICT firms to find a collaboration with Chinese companies.

Our king has come to China already a few times and my country has very good economic relations with China. I am also happy to see that our country is advancing in modern technology and that we are making a great effort to also learn from China and exchange knowledge.

My husband and I started a new business: help Chinese to sell on Amazon, be their agents but also give trainings. I will be responsible for Social Media advertising. So, I will help to advertise on Facebook, Youtube and Instagram for Chinese sellers.

For years, I have been living in China and I see how many things Chinese do different than Westerners. So, when they need to promote their products to the West, they have to adapt the Western style of writing and showing pictures or videos that appeal to Westerners.

When I see a description on Amazon, I can almost immediately see that it has been written by a Chinese. It is careless (has spelling mistakes) and it only describes features. There are no descriptions to get to the emotions of the people. When we want to sell something, we don’t always have to just show the product and hope that people will buy. We have to attract the customers to buy this by touching their emotions.

I like this business, because it builds a bridge between the West and the East and this was always my dream to do. Although, I didn’t know it would have been in this way. I thought I would teach about European culture to Chinese, but now, I am going to teach about European consumerism. Which, you may think, is the new culture of the world.

My updated website

I have been working on this project for more than 2 years – if you count the years I have been practicing martial arts to the level on where I feel myself good enough to teach it, it would be more than 15 years altogether.

I feel exhilarated at this, because this is something I created all by myself and I want to teach people on how to live the life they want! What is a life not lived intensely anyway?

Please comment below on what you think and how I could help you!

Modeling Jack Ma

A couple of weeks ago, my husband organized a big meeting to explain our new project. After the meeting, a guy came up to me and we were talking about Kung fu and Tai Chi, as he knew I was practicing and teaching Tai Chi.

He told me something very interesting, which my husband also told me but I didn’t want to listen. I knew Jack Ma was practicing Tai Chi and that he had a school for Tai Chi in Hangzhou. But, my husband said that his school was not successful and that even he couldn’t earn much money with it.

I have been frustrated that people didn’t want to pay much money for my Tai Chi classes, even though I have many years of experience and did a few competitions. I wanted to make Tai Chi a part of my career, but have been struggling for 2 years now. Eric, my husband, was already saying that I shouldn’t focus on something that I love, but that I need to earn money in another way and just practice by myself. Which makes more and more sense because I could already feel that I liked Tai Chi less and less, because I became frustrated with me struggling to get students and to try to get people as motivated in Tai Chi as I was. I realize now that I can’t change people: I have to accept that most people don’t see Tai Chi the way I see it.

That man told me that Jack Ma is going to make a movie with him acting in it doing Tai Chi. He has an amazing cast, all big Kung fu and Tai Chi stars will be in it: Jet Li, Donny Yen, even Tony Ya from Thailand. I was amazed that he could pull this off. But, now I realize that I have to do like him: I need to earn money in another way. And when I earn enough (doesn’t have to be as much as him), I can practice Tai Chi and do whatever I want with it, because I will have enough money from my other business(es).

I took Tai Chi as an example, because that is my passion and I was listening to too many videos of following your passion and money will follow. Everyone has a different passion, so you can change Tai Chi into your passion. But, I also found out that I have a few passions. My other and greater passion is to be a coach and stand on stage in front of many people. This new project with my husband will get me there. And, who knows, when I have enough money and enough exposure, I can stand on that stage and teach some Tai Chi there!

Should you be afraid of eating meat in China?

I get this question a lot from foreigners, especially the ones that are new to China: Should you be afraid to eat meat here in China? They all heard some horror stories that in some restaurants they might serve dog instead of pork or so.

We all know that in certain areas in China, people eat dogs. I lived in such an area for more than 6 years and it is horrifying: you see dogs in little cages, all packed together, being transported to the local market to get slaughtered; you see dogs, hanging on hooks, like a piece of beef.

But, where I lived, it is a specialty and more expensive than other meat, so they won’t take it instead of other meat. Most of the time, it’s also only in specialized restaurants that you can order it. It is a gruesome thing to serve dog, but it’s their culture. I felt bad for the dogs and they are kept in bad conditions, but is this not with all animals now?

Before, I ate other meat, because I lived in the countryside in Belgium and we were keeping our own chickens, we went to a farmer to buy a pig or a part of beef. The butcher would come to our home to cut up the meat.

Now, I am a pescatarian – still eat fish – because I don’t want to eat meat from the supermarket. First, because I don’t know what they did with the meat, i.e. what hormones, antibiotics and other things they injected into the animal and second, I don’t like the way they treat animals. It is not humane, we treat living beings as an industry now. I wouldn’t mind to eat a juicy steak of a bull that ate organic grass all his life, was happily running around in a pasture and was killed by the farmer in swift way.

Eating dogs is wrong, as much as eating animals that have been living in small cages where they can’t move, have been injected with too many chemicals, and are then en masse killed in a slaughterhouse filled with fear.

We all need to think of what we are doing to our world. Don’t condemn one culture to do something that we don’t agree on and refuse to look what we are doing in ours. I used to love eating rabbit meat. It is normal in Europe, but when I would say that to some people, they also look shocked. How can I eat a nice bunny rabbit?

Expats back in their country

I am back in Belgium now for a couple of weeks and it is hard to be back. First of all, and the biggest problem, is that I have to live with my parents.

People here in my home country don’t know anything about the life I am living abroad. They haven’t changed that much, but I have changed and I am not used to the Belgian life anymore.

I have been living more than 9 years in China now and China is my home. Already for years I have a reversed culture shock. I don’t know much about life in my home country anymore. I don’t know the recent developments and what the popular trends are.

It has been harder and harder to come back. But, it is also due to the fact that I have to live with my parents and that they live in a small village with no public transportation. The contrast between the village and Shenzhen couldn’t be bigger for sure.

My husband came with me this time, so it was a good excuse to sometimes take my parents’ car and drive to another city to visit.

Village life is, I guess, in most places all over the world the same. People don’t like change; they want to keep the traditional way of living. So, we have been eating traditional meals with a lot of fries, Belgian waffles and of course a lot of chocolate. But, it’s not all about food. I feel that I have evolved into a life that my family knows nothing or very little about. They talk about Belgian things and assume I still know, but I have no idea about it.

All this makes me go into a little identity crisis sometimes: am I still Belgian or am I becoming more and more Chinese? This is the most difficult question and I don’t think I can answer: I consider myself still as Western, but not as much as pure Belgian.

Even though, I know it is also because of this village that I feel this way. I have a friend who lives in a big city here in Belgium and I still feel more connected with her. It is difficult to stay nice to my parents, though. I want to have a great time with them while I am here but I am getting annoyed with their close-mindedness and they still treat me as the little girl they knew.

All in all, it is always good to be back in my home country, because it makes me realize how much I have grown over the years. I am glad I got out of the village and took responsibility to live the life that I want and not one that society wants me to have.