I came to China in 2008 to study Kung Fu. I was practicing Kung Fu in Belgium and came to China for the first time in 2007 to travel through the country of this beautiful martial art! I visited tourist places, like Yangshuo, Xi’an and Beijing and also went to Shaolin to see some real Shaolin Kung Fu. When I was in Yangshuo, I met a Kung Fu teacher who had a beautiful family style, BuDiZhen, a mix of Shaolin and Wudang Kung Fu.
I decided to live in Yangshuo for 1 year, study Kung Fu and then I thought of moving back to Belgium. Little did I know back then that my life would never be the same again…
I stayed in Yangshuo and learned from my Kung Fu teacher for 2 years. I had some money saved, so I was an English teacher just part-time and I focused on learning a lot of Kung Fu.
But, after 2 years, I started to hear more about Tai Chi and how it helps you to cultivate your internal energy. I was intrigued by it and finally found a good teacher to teach me Chen Tai Chi.
From 2010, I started to practice Tai Chi. I loved the slow graceful movements, but also the martial aspect of it. Every movement represents a self-defense technique and it is actually hard work. I practiced really hard and went to a couple of competitions: in 2013, I went to Henan, Jiaozuo, the birthplace of Tai Chi to participate in an International competition and I got a gold medal and silver medal. The year after, I went to the World Championship, but didn’t get a medal there.
In 2015, I moved to Shenzhen and I started to teach Tai Chi to expats that I met here. I never thought I could be a Tai Chi teacher in China and I didn’t profile myself like that at first. Some people wanted to know a bit more about Tai Chi and because I could speak English, they asked me to teach them. Little by little, I started to be known as the ‘Tai Chi master’ and more people were texting me to know my teaching schedule.
I am teaching almost every month now and am having more and more students. I am thinking of a whole project to teach Tai Chi as a whole lifestyle: the movements, the history and the philosophy.
When I tell Chinese people that I teach Tai Chi, the first reaction is almost always: but you are not old! Apparently, for Chinese people you have to be old to practice Tai Chi. I always answer: “it’s because I don’t want to become old that I practice.” Because Tai Chi helps to balance your body and mind, makes your body stronger, you will not become old that fast.
I find it a shame that Chinese people don’t want to practice Tai Chi anymore. The new generation is not putting much value on it. I heard that in my country it is becoming very popular. The West is discovering ancient Chinese philosophy: Chinese medicine, Chinese arts and Chinese martial arts are all becoming very popular. But, in China they are becoming less and less popular. Do we, Westerners, in the future will have to teach the Chinese about their traditional culture?
Again an item I can check off my bucket list, although this one was definitely not on it in the first place. But, being married to Eric, I could have known this would end up on my list…
So, what happened? Eric got an inflatable boat and knew about an island 4km off the coast of Shenzhen. His plan was to row to the island and camp there for 1 night. We had a lot of stuff with us: tent, water and snacks, fishing net,…
After 1 hour on the sea, the weather changed and it started to rain. Not much, just a shower and so we continued, even though for the half hour it rained, we couldn’t see any land anymore. The second rain shower lasted a bit longer and we had to scoop water out of the boat. The waves got a bit higher. But again, we continued, as we were halfway and we thought we could reach it in just one more hour.
After that, 1 paddle broke and the waves started to get higher. All of a sudden, the heavens broke and it started pouring rain. The waves became scary high and it rained a lot. We had to keep on scooping more water out of the boat. The rain didn’t stop for 2 to 3 hours. We saw a container ship and started waving our paddles. Eric’s phone didn’t work because of water damage and I didn’t bring mine, just because I thought it might be damaged.
The ship was not far from us, but didn’t pick us up. After what seemed like a lifetime, the rain started to pour down less and we started to see the contours of mountains. After a while, we could see land clearly again. I started to get courage again and started paddling like crazy towards land, afraid that another shower would come and we wouldn’t see it again.
After 2 more hours, we were closer to land and it started to rain heavily again. The waves started to build up in strength and we were again at the mercy of the sea. We were being put closer and closer to land. At that point, we had to make sure that our boat wouldn’t be thrown onto rocks. We started to keep the paddle in our hand to use if a rock would be too close to us, but it was useless. We were going up and down on the waves and had no control over the direction.
In the end, we went closer and closer to land. Eric got out of the boat to try to steer it a bit, but the sea was too wild. A few minutes later, a big wave swept under the boat and I flew out of it and was thrown on the rocks. The last I saw was Eric being caught between a big rock and the boat. I started shouting as I didn’t see him the first minute. He came out of the water and I could feel my own body: my knees and hand were hurt, but not too bad.
We got all of our stuff by wonder, because the waves were smacking on the rocks. We packed everything and we had to walk another 3 km over rocks, through water, mud and a small forest back to our car.
Eric’s comment: we wanted to eat free fish, but we almost got eaten by fish!
Yeah, I guess that is going to be my life story with him. He already thinks of trying to do it by kayak next time.
I have been living in China for 9 years now, but didn’t feel the need to drive a car here. I lived in Yangshuo for more than 6 years and went around by bicycle because of the beautiful environment there and because it was so small that I never had to cycle very long.
Since 2015, I live in Shenzhen. The public transportation is very convenient, so I didn’t feel like getting it there either. But, my husband has a car and he felt it would be nice that I would have my Chinese driver’s license.
I have my Belgian license and… it seemed I got very lucky. Belgians are one of the few nationalities that don’t need to do the test. I just had to get my Belgian driver’s license translated into Chinese by a recognized translation bureau and had to get all the papers of my visa etc…
Since March this year, I finally got my Chinese driver’s license and my husband immediately got me into the traffic. There was no first trying to get used to the car. The next day I got my license, he told me to drive and I had to take place behind the wheel and drive into the hectic Shenzhen traffic. It went much better than I thought. But, I had to have eyes everywhere. Cars are coming from all directions, changing lanes all the time and buses or trucks don’t care, they just drive into your lane, so I have to stop and let them go through first.
After a couple of weeks of me driving (my husband is taking it easy, he doesn’t want to drive anymore), he told me I had to use the speaker more often. He didn’t know the English word, so after a while, I understood what he wanted to say: I had to honk more.
Slowly, I am learning to get my way through the traffic. I honk, I change lanes many times, I go from the outmost left lane all over the other lanes to take an exit. I am starting to become a real Chinese person in traffic and I must say it, I enjoy it. There is a flow to it. Once I understand the rules of: buses and trucks have the most power and I can’t hesitate, I just have to keep moving, everything goes well.
I now realize how much I have missed driving a car. And it must be said: most drivers are honest. Just a couple of days ago, we had parked our car in a small parking lot. And someone hit our car from behind. We didn’t put our phone number visible at the windshield. We didn’t see the dent in our car. When we wanted to leave the parking lot, the guard told us that someone hit our car and they had the phone number of that person. We could phone him to get this settled in the best terms. This is also the honor code that people have in China, which I admire very much.
A lot of people are surprised when they hear that I am married to a Chinese man. It is sometimes difficult, because of cultural and language differences, but any relationship is hard at times.
The main cultural difference we had before was privacy. I noticed and was surprised to see that Chinese don’t have a sense of privacy like we have. I sometimes like to be by myself, sit in the bedroom with a good book, not wanting to be disturbed by anyone, but my husband was surprised that I wanted to be in another room and thought I was angry. I didn’t understand how he doesn’t like personal space and that sometimes he left the door of the apartment open.
We had many small differences, but the best part is that we learn from each other! To be together with someone from another culture enriches life in many ways.
I already learned to live outside my comfort zone because I already lived in China for already 7 years before I met my husband, but he had to adapt to me too and he learned to go out of his comfort zone too. This is the most important in a relationship: to learn and adapt to each other. If you don’t do that, the relationship will fail.
At the beginning of our relationship, my husband resumed his life and did everything he did before, without asking me if I liked it. He just thought I was ok with it. We were arguing a lot and he learned that we can’t just keep on living our life like we are single. We need to learn what the other person likes and we need to learn how to live and do things together.
Communication is the most important. After each argument, we talked a lot on how we see life and how we feel. This brought us closer and closer and now, our relationship is stronger than ever. I can’t imagine my life without him anymore. Sometimes, I go back to Belgium without him, because he needs to stay in China for work and we miss each other immensely.
The other strong part in our relationship is that we share a lot of the same interests. We both like sports and love the outdoors. He also challenges me in ways I didn’t think I could do. I have started to run marathons and climb mountains because of him. These activities, especially trekking in the mountains with no one else to rely on but ourselves, have brought a bond that can’t be broken!
So, no matter if you have a relationship with someone from the same culture or from a different culture. The main things in any relationship around the world are trust, communication and similar interests.
A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I did a photo shoot for his sponsor Camel in their headquarters in Guangzhou.
I thought that it would be mainly my husband that they would take photos of, because after all, it is him that they sponsor, not me. But, as it turned out, I had to be in the pictures as well and it was all more professional than I thought. I thought we would just dress in some of their clothes, they would take a few photos and that was it.
Not according to them…
It took a whole day: from 9.30am till 6pm. They had a stylist who was doing our makeup and hair, we had to change into different clothes a lot and we had to put on some gear (e.g. climbing gear, backpack,…). I felt uncomfortable a couple of times. Like the time when the guy was doing my makeup and he said that I really didn’t put a lot of makeup on myself. He was surprised to see how little makeup I applied myself. I applied mascara and eye-shadow, which was already more than I did before and no, I don’t apply any foundation or BB cream now as the temperatures are still over 30 degrees and it would run down my face in 5min anyway.
While he was doing my makeup, some real models showed up: they would do the normal clothes line. I felt very conscious of myself. They were tall, slim and beautiful!! And most of all: they knew what they were doing. They did their thing and after just 1 hour they finished. As with us, they had to tell us over and over again where to look, what pose, do it more natural, not too natural, smile, don’t smile, look up, look down. It was exhausting! I know now that I am not a model and don’t even want to be one.
Another embarrassing moment was when 1 of the trousers were a bit too tight. The girl who dressed me (yes, I had my personal assistant who took me to the dressing room and helped me dress), said that they might be a bit too tight. Me, not wanting to admit that I do have big thighs, said it was fine. But, I had to wear them a couple of times and yes, I was very conscious on how tight they were. Time to go on a diet, I guess (although till this moment, I still haven’t started on this diet just yet, I will soon)!
All in all it was a nice experience and it might have been the only photo shoot I will ever do, so it was good to see that a model’s life can be quite hard and that it’s not so good for your self-confidence at times!
My Chinese wedding was according to the tradition of the Ming Dynasty. You have 2 traditions that are the most popular in China now: that of the Ming Dynasty and that of the Qing Dynasty. Because the Qing Dynasty was Manchurian, this tradition is more popular in the north, the Manchurian region. In other regions, with the Han Chinese, the Ming Dynasty is the most popular.
The day itself began, for my husband, at 6am to get the person who would do my makeup and hair. 1 hour later, he picked me up from his place to bring me to his uncle’s place to get ready there. Normally, I should have slept the night at my parents’ place, or I would have spent the night at his uncle’s place, but we had a big dinner and went to bed a bit late.
At his uncle’s place, the beautician made my makeup and hair. It was beautiful! I thought it would have looked too fake and too much, but she did a wonderful job! I put on my dress and shoes and felt a bit emotional to see my transformation into a bride.
Slowly, more and more family members came and they were all taking pictures of me. I was surrounded with people taking pictures with their phones and cameras. I felt like a movie star!
We had to wait longer than expected. Normally, Eric would come to pick me up in a carriage around 8.30am, but he finally came around 9.30am. They blocked the door, so he couldn’t come near me and they were all asking for a ‘hongbao’ (red envelope with money in it). He had to shove it under the door. They were shouting it was not enough, and eventually he could push open the door and had to distribute a lot of ‘hongbao”. I had to wear a red cover over my head, so I couldn’t see anything and he had to lead me out of the house.
Eric had an open carriage, carried by 4 people. I had a closed carriage also carried by 4. Before our carriage there were 2 lions and then people holding banners with best wishes written on them. The whole procession went through the village. Inside the carriage I could take off my cover, but still, it was a hot day and it was hot in the carriage. People were trying to get a glimpse of me. It all felt surreal, like I was transformed into some Chinese princess.
Finally, arriving at Eric’s place, I had to wear the cover over my head again and he had to carry me inside. We stopped at the entrance gate and I had no idea what was going on, but apparently someone was carrying 2 buckets of water and went around us 3 times. Then, someone put something over our head and we could move inside. He had to carry me till our bedroom. There, he could put me down.
We could take a rest till the ceremony would start. By then, it was 11am and the ceremony would start half an hour later. I had to wear other, even more traditional clothes. When the ceremony started, we had to sit in front of the stage under a canopy. We first had to draw eyes on the lions with a brush dipped in red paint. Then, I had to go into the carriage again with the cover over my head. There was a lion performance and Eric had to shoot an arrow on stage (I saw the pictures later). Then, he had to come to my carriage and carry me to the red carpet. On the red carpet there were 3 ornaments: I had to step on the first one and step over the next 2. I can tell you, with a cover over my head, it was not so easy.
I had to step on stage after that, which again, Eric had to tell me every step. Once on stage, Eric could take of the cover, but with a stick. He had to pull the cover up first from the right side to have a look, then from the left side and then finally entirely.
I had a headpiece on that represented the head plumes of a phoenix (the female symbol of yin yang) and of course the cover was stuck on the headpiece. So, finally the beautician had to help us out.
After this, we had to bow three times to the guests and three times to Eric’s parents. Normally, the parents of the groom or on one side, the parents of the bride or on the other side, but my parents were not present, so his father sat on Eric’s side, his mother on my side. At last, we had to bow three times to each other. Then, Eric had to give his father a cup of tea and his father had to give him a ‘hongbao’. The same with me: I had to give his mother a cup of tea and she gave me a ‘hongbao’.
Then we had to ‘drink’ a cup of alcohol (but that was really fake, because there was nothing in the cup). At last, we had to cut a string of hair, Eric a string of mine and I had to cut some of his (which was not easy, as his hair is really short). We had to put it in a small bag. This is the symbol of our union (a little bit like the exchange of rings in the West).
The ceremony was over and he had to carry me again from the stage into our bedroom. Which was more difficult now, because the skirt of those traditional clothes was obstructing movement.
After that, I could change into my original wedding dress again. The beautician helped me with changing clothes again. I was a bit embarrassed then, as it was a warm day and even the half hour I was wearing those traditional clothes, sweat was dripping from me. But, I was relieved to finally take them off.
When I came out again, people were sitting at the tables, enjoying their lunch. A huge lunch and I was hungry, but I had to go to every table and pour a drink for each one of them. Eric had the ricewine and I had the soft drinks in my hand. 2 others joined us to give the ‘lucky candy’ and ‘lucky cigarettes’. Fortunately, I didn’t have to toast with every table. Normally, it’s a tradition that the couple has to toast with every table and they would get really drunk, but it was lunch time, so many people still needed to drive. And Eric can’t really handle alcohol (after a half glass he is already drunk. People were very surprised to see I could handle alcohol that well), so he didn’t want to toast. There were 160 people, so there were many many tables. After having served everyone, we could finally sit down ourselves and eat. It was delicious!! I kept on eating. I didn’t count them, but I guessed there were around 20 different dishes and each one of them looked too good not to try.
After lunch, Eric had a presentation about us: from the beginning of our relationship till our honeymoon, but he was too enthusiastic about the pictures and showed way too many! So, many people left already during the presentation, which I didn’t mind. I know this is the Chinese way: after the meal, everybody gets up and leaves.
The local tv was there to shoot a video of our wedding. The wedding company had arranged this, because it was good publicity for them and we didn’t mind. This way, I had a video to show to my family. After the presentation, we went with the cameraman to a parc to take some pictures of us together. The parc’s entrance fee was 80rmb/person, so he just shot some pictures at the entrance of the parc and we left. The cameraman went back and I had a friend from Holland who joined my wedding. He was with us and his train would leave that evening, so we decided to go to a coffee shop for the afternoon. I was so glad I had him! I had someone to talk to, because Eric was too busy with talking to his family members and I didn’t understand much of it as they were all talking in their local dialect. And, I hadn’t seen my friend for 2 years, so it was nice to catch up!!
After we dropped him off at the train station, we went back home. We ate the leftovers with some of his familymembers that were still there and then 1 of his neighbors wanted to play games, but no one was really enthusiastic about it. We did one, where he bound a candy on a string and I had to get it with my teeth and give it to Eric. Of course, he circled the candy around Eric’s face, so it seemed I was kissing Eric all over. In the end, I could catch it and that was the end of the game and of all other games. People just wanted to talk and then left early. In China it’s not like in the West where it goes on till late at night (or actually till the next morning).
I am very glad that Eric gave me this wonderful day! I know it sounds like a cliché and I never believed it myself when other people told me, but your wedding day is truly the most beautiful day of your life!!
It’s been a while since I have posted another blog.
A lot has happened these couple of months! Beginning of July we went on honeymoon for more than 6 weeks. I succeeded to:
summit my first mountain of 5300m (well, actually, my first mountain ever! I had never been close to a mountain before);
we did a trekking of 5 days in between mountains (where we had to climb over a few mountain passes, some as high as 4800m, my feet were covered in blisters and I was just glad I was still kind of able to walk till the finish line);
we climbed a second mountain: I went till 5000m and stayed at the campsite, while Eric went with our guide to the summit of 5588m. Although, Eric climbed already several mountains, some of them much higher than this one, he told me that it was the most difficult and dangerous one he ever did;
then, we did a last trekking of normally 5 days, but we ended up doing in 6. Our last day, we would go on a hiking without our guide in nature. It would normally take 3 hours, we did it in 2 full days: we got lost, had to sleep on top of a mountain on a small ridge and the next morning we had to leave all our stuff behind as it was too dangerous to take with us. We managed to finally arrive at the touristic side of the region and were just in time to take the last bus back (otherwise we would have to walk another 40km to get out of the spot).
And… finally we had our Chinese (very traditional, but a lot of fun too) wedding party. All this, I will describe in more detail these next few blogs…
I will start with our wedding party first, as this is still the freshest in my mind and the most wonderful, happy, mystical experience my husband could give me!!!