Today is Chinese Valentine’s Day. I already thought it comes quite late this year as this is July 7 on Chinese calendar. But, apparently, this year the Chinese calendar had 2 times the month of June. Every 3 years or so they have a leap month instead of a leap day. So, this year they have 13 months! Imagine you have your birthday in June, you can celebrate two times this year…
I also thought to celebrate with my husband: have a nice evening, dinner, wine, candles,… you know what I am talking about. Not in the traditional Chinese culture. His son is with us, which I am ok with. But then all of a sudden his father called and will spend the evening with us as well. It’s not that I don’t like his father, it’s just that I can’t picture celebrating Valentine’s Day with parents.
So many differences in culture that I need to understand and that are not always easy.
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?
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.
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!!
On 5 June, I got married to my Chinese boyfriend. We were then together for 3 months and it felt the right thing. It went really fast, because we were just trying to get the right papers. Actually, it went a bit like this:
One evening I wanted to talk to him about our future. I wanted to have the serious talk, that was somewhere in May. He then said that right on that same day, he went to the Chinese government to see what we have to do to get married. I replied kinda like: “Oh, so, we are going to marry?” And he said: “Yeah, Why not? It’s going to be easy, we don’t need many documents.”
That was the world’s least romantic proposal, I guess. A couple of weeks later he told me that he had to confess a secret. When he was in Nepal, he bought a ruby for me and a sapphire for him and he wanted to take them to the summit of Mt. Everest. Back to base camp, I would be waiting for him there and he would propose to me then. That was really romantic, but, because of the earthquake, he lost the stones and he was really down because of it.
Next year, April 2016, he will climb again and I will wait for him in base camp and he wants to do the proposal right then, but he said that we can already get married now and get the rings next year. That was the most romantic thing I ever heard and that is why I love him: he is very pragmatic, but then all of a sudden he surprises me with some deep heartfelt emotions.
So, after our serious talk in May, I set to work to get the right document from the Belgian government. After a couple of weeks, I could get the document in the consulate in Guangzhou, as it had to be translated there in Chinese. At the consulate they told me that this was not enough. I needed many more documents. On our way back to Shenzhen, we were a bit down, especially me, because I hate this bureaucratic going-around (as many people I am sure) and I was not looking forward at sending emails to different Belgian government departments to get the right papers. Back in Shenzhen, we went to the marriage registration bureau to ask which papers we really needed. And… you won’t believe it, after half an hour we stood outside: Married! We didn’t need the other papers, there were no witnesses (in Belgium you need at least 2 witnesses to co-sign the marriage) and no rings. I was a bit in a daze, didn’t fully understand what just happened, but also very happy that we were husband and wife without much bureaucratic hassle.
In the evening, Eric, my husband (still feels weird to call him that) told me that it was not romantic so far, but he wanted to get the unromantic part out of the way and then we could fully focus on the romantic part: our wedding party and honeymoon.
Eric is from Sichuan and we will have our honeymoon there first: a few weeks traveling by car through the province, do several trekkings in the mountains and then on August 22 we will have our wedding party in Sichuan. Next weekend, 4 July we will finally start our honeymoon. I am so looking forward to it, because the bureaucratic mill is still going on. I need a new visa, but because my passport is only valid for another year, it would be better to just renew my work visa, which need, again, many papers and we were waiting for a few weeks again to see if we could go on a holiday. We will go, even though, my passport will still be in process of the new visa and will be at the PSB, but I guess with a copy of my passport and if we don’t take any flights it will be ok.
Then, we started to look at wedding clothes,…. Aahhhh, I didn’t know! Many Chinese marry Western style now, in a white dress, but I told him that I don’t mind to marry in a Chinese wedding dress, which I thought was red, but still elegant. When he showed me the picture of what he had in mind, my eyes almost fell out of my head and I exclaimed: “No way! You don’t get me in THAT!” (see picture) So, we compromised. We will wear that for some of our wedding pictures and I will marry in a mild, elegant version of the traditional dress.
I can see that our life will be interesting and colourful, because of all the differences. As long as we can talk about it and have a laugh, it will be ok.
I am looking forward to the rest of our life together! It is going to be a great adventure!
I start my new chapter in Shenzhen, China. I have lived in Yangshuo, Guangxi for 6 years. I had the best of times there and I had the worst of times. The best of times was when I met people from all over the world, some of them became really close friends. Even though they left China, I know that wherever we are in the world, we will stay in touch and will make an effort to see each other.
The worst of times is when I got hurt by men. I had a long relationship when I came to China, but because foreign men are popular with Chinese girls here, he left me for a Chinese. Also, once in China, we did everything together and from what I know now, we were not fit for each other anyway. I was alone for almost 2 years after that. I dated some guys, but it stayed with just a couple of first dates.
After that, I met a Chinese guy and we hit it off immediately. We had the same interests and we had a lot of fun together. Until more than 2 years into our relationship, I wanted to take it to another level. I wanted to marry him and wanted to have it more serious (after all, we had been living together for 2 years by then), but he became withdrawn and stayed out with friends more and more. Until I heard that he dated another girl. He broke my heart and it took more than a year to get over this relationship and to trust guys again.
Back in the single life, I also realized that Yangshuo was not the town for me anymore. It’s very touristic and it turned more and more into a party place for rich Guangdong people to come and party for the weekend. Although, I started to avoid the center of town and practiced tai chi by myself in quiet places, I started to feel very lonely as well. Most of the foreigners were still meeting in the bar. For me, I felt that chapter was closed. I wanted to move on with my life. I wanted to have more in life and not just a day job and hang out in the bar at night. I felt I was stuck there.
It took a while to know what I really wanted. Last year, 2014, I went to Belgium, my home country 2 times: in summer for the wedding of my brother and in winter to celebrate christmas (which I hadn’t celebrated in Belgium since I moved to China). Both times, I thought of moving back to Belgium. At least, there I had my family and still some close friends who know me for many years. Back in China, I thought if I would at least try to live in a big city, but the thought of starting all over in a big city where I hardly knew anyone, frightened me.
After thinking about all my possibilities, I returned to Yangshuo in January this year. With a new confidence and a brighter look onto life: I would go back to Belgium and find a job there. Even if Belgium wasn’t the country for me anymore, I could stay with my family for at least a year and in the future I could always move back to China. I felt I needed to be with the people I loved most.
But life gave me another direction…
Back in China I started to teach at my old school again, because I couldn’t move during the period of Chinese New Year and it would take a while to sort all my things out, not in the least my little dog, who I was planning on taking with me to Belgium.
At school, I met an interesting guy: Eric. We started dating and he showed me a whole different Yangshuo: he was into rock climbing (I had done it a couple of times, but because I never had friends who were really into it and because I was focusing more on tai chi, I never stuck to it). He always went climbing with many others: foreigners and Chinese. They were all really close with each other and I saw for the first time that there is something that binds climbers: they will help you with everything and encourage you to push your limits. We had the best times: we went camping a couple of times or we just made a fire near our climbing site and when we were not climbing we had great talks about life.
The Yangshuo I saw now, was one of being close to mountains, quiet spots, natural caves,… Not the hustle and bustle of the town. It made me look at it in a different new way. After 6 years, I looked with new eyes at the place I lived in for so long.
Still, I knew my life was not in Yangshuo anymore. Eric and I became a couple. He lives in Shenzhen, so after Chinese New Year, I moved with him to Shenzhen. We immediately lived with each other. I had to adjust to the life in a big city, but it was also very exciting and there are endless possibilities here.
In April, Eric went to Nepal to climb the Mt. Everest, which ended in a disaster because of the earthquake (see my previous blog entry). Because of this experience, I knew more than ever he is my perfect match and I never want to lose him. He felt the same way. So much so, that we got married yesterday.
June 5, 2015 is our official wedding day! It’s only by law, we will have our wedding party on a different day. It feels perfect!
When you know you have the right one, you don’t need to wait for a certain time to get married. It all goes natural and smooth…
I wish for everyone to find their perfect match and have a fulfilling life! Tell me about the time where you met your life partner or tell me about your past love experiences.
This has been my personal blog for a while now. I have written about my personal thoughts, my experiences and the personal development I went through. Especially, living in China.
My life has changed so much recently and I have decided to change my blog a bit. I will write about my life with my new Chinese boyfriend. Because I have moved with him to a big city, Shenzhen and we have our cultural differences, I will mainly write about our everyday life and our experiences.
My boyfriend is quite adventurous: he is into running marathons and ultraruns, mountaineering and rock climbing. I came to China to learn martial arts. My main focus in life were these sports. Read about what we are doing and if he can change my mind into following him more on his adventures.
I also have a health blog, which you can follow here: https://healthybodymindblog.wordpress.com/
Enjoy the reading and please feel free to comment on my articles and share your experiences in a foreign country.