Thursday, April 20, 2017

PARSLEY & CORIANDER: THE BOOK IS OUT!

Today is the big day. After months of hard work, the English edition of my novel "Parsley & Coriander" is finally out!



But why should you be interested in my novel? Who are the protagonists? What is the point?

There are so many books about expat life, accompanying spouses, experiences abroad: why should you bother to read another one?

Reading and enjoying a book is a very personal experience, I know. I can’t promise that you will adore “Parsley & coriander”: you might stay awake all night to devour it, or read a few pages, put it on your night table and never open it again. 

What I can do, instead, is to introduce you to some of the characters, let them show you something more, let them make you feel the atmosphere, take your hand and captivate you.
So, characters of my book, who wants to talk first?

“Hi there! I’m Luisella!”

I knew you would have spoken first! What can you tell us about yourself?

“I’m a friendly, lively person. If I were to meet you in the street, and realize that you are a newly arrived expat in China, I would probably invite you for a coffee and make you feel at ease. This is who I am: I can’t help myself helping others - my husband always says I should mind my own business! I love China, I really do. At first, it wasn’t easy, but I learned to adapt to such an extent that I don’t want to leave anymore!”

Beautiful lady, your name is Emma, right? Would you like to tell us something about your story?

“What can I say? I wasn’t supposed to become an expat! My husband got a one-year contract only, and we planned I would stay in Italy. But… our marriage was falling apart and I decided to follow him. What happened next…. I would have never expected it! It was something I didn’t look for and that totally changed my life, or maybe I should say ‘someone’…”

Please, don’t reveal too much! I know you are a very passionate and romantic woman but, you know, if you let them know everything, they won’t buy the book!
And you, over there in the corner? Would you like to say something to your potential readers?

“Oh… uhm… that’s Astrid! I’m not good at talking… what should I say? I’m a mom of two, a wife, occasionally I remember I’m a person, as well. I’m trying to perk myself up after going through a difficult period. China? Oh, it’s very different from my expectations! My feelings? I’m always afraid of something… I don’t know why! I really hate myself for this! But I’m working on it, you know? I’m sure this experience abroad will help me change!”

I usually don’t like to speak about absent people, but can you briefly introduce some of your fellow characters? Is there anyone in particular you like/dislike?

L: “My best friend in the book is Dora. I love her! She’s bursting with energy, beautiful, passionate! I was desperate when she told me she wanted to leave China. But luckily something happened…”

A: “Camilla is maybe the most particular girl I bumped into. At the beginning I thought she was a weirdo, all obsessed about wanting to blend in with the Chinese world, but after a while, I actually got along with her, and she became a good friend…”

E: “Oh, my! Not Camilla, please! It really didn’t work between us!”

A: “So, you prefer Silvia, that snobby woman?”

Ok girls, that’s enough, thank you! I will let the readers discover it by themselves!
Actually, I have one last question: if I ask you to say one sentence, only one, which can give a hint to the readers of what happens to you in the story, what would you say?

L: “Find a role in life and fight for it.”

E: “Follow your heart, even if it may seem crazy!”

A: “Be strong and don’t be afraid of changes.”

So, thank you for…

“Excuse me, may I say something?”

Yes, please. What’s your name?

“I’m Genni. I’m not a main character in the book, but I think many ladies can relate to my story. I lived in China for a short time, I never really fit in and, I confess, I couldn’t wait to go back to Italy. But when I finally repatriated, unexpectedly, I missed my life in China. If any of you experienced this once you returned to your home country, you know perfectly well what I mean. So if you ever lived in China, this book will bring back the atmosphere of those days. It’s worth reading!”

Thanks for your opinion, Genni. And thank you all, my characters, for coming alive once more. I really loved spending time with you as I wrote the story, you will always have a special place in my heart!

Ah, of course, you can find it on Amazon!

Friday, April 14, 2017

5 THINGS YOU’LL NEED FROM YOUR VERY FIRST DAY IN CHINA





China is moving fast! I came to Suzhou almost five years ago and I witnessed many things changing during this period: new building have been built, new residential areas have been developed, many shops have been opened and many other closed. Technology has also changed: in 2012 nobody used his smartphone to pay his coffee at Starbucks or his grocery at the market, nowadays everybody does. Back then, I didn’t even own a smartphone (in Italy I used my mobile only to make phone calls, text to friends and take a glance at the clock) but, once arrived here, I soon realized that I needed one of those gizmos. Day by day, my smartphone became one of my best friends: I couldn’t live without it! I’m not speaking about being addicted to social network or email checking (here Facebook and Google don’t work, anyway!) but about finding some easy and simple solution to everyday small problems and needs.

So, which are the five things you really need as soon as you set your foot in China?

  1. A smartphone, of course. I take for granted that you already have one. But, if not, do yourself a favor and buy it!
  2. A Chinese SIM card. It’s easy: you just need to choose one of the providers (e.g. China Mobile, China Telecom), get into their shop (there are plenty everywhere) with your passport and, in a way or another, choose a plan. Usually, for less than 100 RMB/month you can get a good plan with enough minutes and data. Maybe you can ask a Chinese friend or colleague to help you with this if you think it’s too complicated. They will make you choose a telephone number (numbers are an important matter in China, so choose wisely!) and a password and finally will install your brand new SIM card on your phone. That’s simple! Remember that every month you have to pay your fee, otherwise you won’t be able to call, receive calls and use data: you can go to every “your provider” shop or use Wechat (next step!). If you don’t pay for three months your SIM will automatically expire and you’ll have to buy a new one. 
  3. WeChat account if you don’t have one already. WeChat is an instant messaging and social media application and almost everybody in China uses it, both locals and expats. Believe me: not installing it on your phone will make you feel isolated from the rest of the community! It will be useful to you not only to chat with friends, be part of groups (very common here, we create groups for virtually anything!), share your pictures or links on Moments, but also to call a taxi and pay your bills (see step no. 5!)
  4. A bank account. Don’t be afraid: this is also very easy! The biggest banks may also have branches in where there is someone who speaks English, check among your friends if they know. All you need is your passport and a small amount of cash to make your first deposit (usually not more than 100 RMB). They will make you choose a password and you’ll have to digit it a couple of time, they will ask your information such as telephone number and give you your Union bank card and your online banking login credentials, plus a bunch of paper that you will keep with care. Now you are ready for the next and last step!
  5. WeChat wallet: once you have your bank card, you can link it to your WeChat account and activate your WeChat wallet. This will be extremely useful for your life in China, sometimes even vital! With WeChat wallet you’ll be able to buy online using e-store apps such as Yihaodian or JD, pay your bills at the restaurant or in the shops, call and pay a taxi (using DiDi app, which is already inside WeChat menu), pay your mobile phone’s monthly fee or your utilities. If all this sounds unnecessary to you, is because you don’t live in China yet!  

It may seem complicated (and sometimes it is!), but if you can find a friend who can help everything will go smoothly. And, trust me, the sooner you’ll manage to get these things, the better your daily life will be! 

Monday, March 27, 2017

IT'S SO HARD TO BE A TAITAI


taitaiinchina

She woke up. Outside the window, the usual gray sky surrounded the city. 

“Will I ever be used to that?” she whispered.

She wandered in the empty house for a while and finally decided to have a coffee. She sat at the table, slowly sipping it. Another empty day to fill.

She had been living in China for one year already. Now she felt like she got used to her new life: she had been able to cope with the differences without struggling, she had learned not only how to survive, but how to make the best out of her expat condition. 

But, at the same time, she felt lost. As many other women, when she decided to follow her husband who got a job offer in China, she left her job. At the beginning she fooled herself thinking that she could work in China: but it was too difficult! In her home country she was a secretary, and in China there were already plenty of them: they were local, they could speak Chinese, they didn’t need a work permit, they didn’t need to be overpaid. She gave up very soon. And tried to do something else.

She got in contact with many expat associations and knew many other ladies, all in her same condition. Some of them were appreciating the relaxed pace of their life: they were filling their day shopping, going to restaurants, taking care of their bodies in massage centers or nail salons.
She tried, she really tried to fit in. But she couldn’t. Far from judging their lifestyle, she simply didn’t find these activities meaningful to her in the long term.

She got involved in charity. 

She also got involved in her son’s international school activities.

She tried to learn Mandarin (not much success in this!).

But she still didn’t find her new path, her new place. She realized she had become a Taitai, word that in Chinese means married woman, but for expats is also the condition of a wife who dropped her old life and is struggling to find a new role.

“You have to reinvent yourself” But how?

She sighed. Still four years to go, since her husband got a five-year assignment. She couldn't say she was depressed, but that subtle feeling of frustration was really bothering her! She needed to do something, to find a way.


Did you ever feel like this? Among Suzhou expat wives this is a common feeling. You arrive here thinking is just for a short time, feeling like you are on holiday, and you end up staying longer than you expected. You have the sensation that real life is somewhere else. You live an easy life, you don’t have to rush, you can do many things for yourself. Yet, you feel something is missing. So, what can you do? 

As far as I’m concerned, these are few tips:

  1. Reinvent yourself is a common suggestion you can read on expat manuals. But what does it mean? It means that you have to go beyond your old skills and find something new. You have to look deep inside yourself and find what your real passions and talents are. Maybe you were good in painting. Maybe, like me, you love writing. So, commit yourself on that! And start a new, amazing journey. Need inspiration? Check this!
  2. Are you good in handicraft? Why don’t try to make it a job? Like Une fille en Chine, who creates beautiful accessories inspired to Chinese culture. 
  3. Join some inspiring group of women who are in the search of good projects. In Suzhou we have GetTogheter, an open event where people meet for a coffee, have a good time, and find people that share the same interests.
  4. Learn something new and useful. You can get an HSK, one of the most professional exams to test your Mandarin language ability. Or study for an online degree. Or register for a graphic designer online course. Choose something that can be useful once you move back in your country. 

But, please, find also the time to meet people and have fun with friends (and also some shopping wouldn’t hurt!).

Any other suggestion? I’d like to read it in the comments!


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

WHEN I WAS WRITING AN ENGLISH BLOG


It was a long time ago… 

It was a long time ago the last time I wrote on this blog. And today I write again. 

What happened during all this time? Why did I stop? And why am I starting again?

But let’s take this step-by-step…

Many things happened…

Maybe the most important new, which shook my life and forced me to reinvent all my plans, is that I had my third baby! He is 14 months already, his Chinese name is Dong Sheng (raised in the East) and he was born in Suzhou, a beautiful September day. Even if his arrival was unexpected, he makes our family happy every day more! But, as you can imagine, being pregnant, giving birth and raising a newborn (and at the same time taking care of the other two) it's a very time-consuming activity, and the time for writing became less and less.
Considering also that last year I published my first novel, I even had no time to breath! 
I choose the self-publishing and I had to manage all the marketing and the promotion by myself. Another huge job for a mother-of-three!
The novel is only in Italian for the moment (but the English translation will be available soon!), and is the story of three Italian women, who left their life behind and follow their husbands in China. But I will tell you more about the book in the next posts!

I spend a lot of time promoting the book: as a surprise to myself, I discovered I am able to speak in public, and I even like it! I did many public talks to introduce the book, both in China and Italy, and it has been a great experience for me!

I appeared on many Italian web sites about expat life, and on my city newspaper as well. If you are curious, you can see all the interviews and article on my Italian blog cucinanto.com.

So, this was a very exciting job and gave me many satisfactions. But it left me no time for anything else (actually, I still wonder how I could manage to do all those things!).

Now I feel ready to start the write-an-Englis-blog adventure again! 



In the meantime, I will translate some of the Italian posts I wrote about being pregnant and giving birth in China. I hope you will enjoy!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

TCK AND REAL LIFE

 
This morning my daughter woke up telling me: “I had a dream... I dreamed that I was in Italy with my Chinese class and I told to my friend: this is my real home.”
I have looked at her, thoughtful. She is almost 6 years old, she is living in China since two years. But, for her, “real home” is still Italy.

What makes a place your place? Grandparents and relatives? The first memories of your life? The house which your parents have built with sweat and blood (okay, maybe not blood but the word makes the idea), or what?

And how about my son, who was 2 ½ years old when we come to China? His first friends, he has made here. He learned speaking here (and, actually, he speaks better English than Italian). Is he also going to consider Italy his “real home”?
This is what they call “Third Culture Kids”. I read about it, but to find myself facing the issue, is different!
In a book I read some very important words: children needs strong roots, in order to grow a large foliage that rises to the sky.

In expat life, everything is changing and inconstant. Friends and teachers are coming and going and sometimes I wonder how can my children bear this situation and be always happy and smiling... but they also feel that our “real” life is elsewhere. Maybe we won't go back for a long time (and, actually, our real life is now in China!), but in their heart our home is an idealized and mythological place where nothing changes: Grandma will always welcome you with her fragrant home-made cookies, Uncle and Auntie will take you in their vegetable patch, showing you seedlings and buds, friends will tell you about the small school they are attending.
One of the best friend of my daughter will go back soon to France for good. She asked me: when will we go back for good in Italy? And I felt like a stab in the hearth.

A foreigner could live decades in China, and still continue to be foreigner. You look as foreigner, no way to blend into the background! Everybody can guess you are not from here!
But, in any case, expat life changes you, and you start feeling like if you life is now double: two countries, two houses, different friends, atmosphere, foods. And you start wondering which world do you belong.
And this is true for children, also. My daughter uses to say “Our planet” instead of “our country”, and “this planet” instead of China... funny, isn't it? Incredible how deeply they can think, inside that little blond head!

They know they are Italian. And it's my duty to let them know about their country history and culture. And it's my duty also let them love the country which is giving to us hospitality.



Saturday, January 25, 2014

DON'T BE AFRAID OF CHANGE




Change is life. In the stagnant water, life dies.
Change is challenging, but it also bring opportunities. If you stay immobile, waiting for something, probably nothing will happen.
Moving abroad is a huge change! Is it easy to do? It depends on you, on what you leave, on what you are expecting for. But, for sure, it is always a great opportunity, even when everything seems to prove that it is not.
Speaking about my experience, move abroad gave me strength, self-esteem, capability to cope the little troubles of life without falling in deep depression (when you must get around a lot of Chinese office to get your visa, almost nothing can scare you anymore)!
If you have a chance to move abroad for work, don't discard the idea too soon! Even if you are terribly scared, don't let the cowardly of you to decide for your future!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

EXPAT STORIES: COMING BACK FROM CHRISTMAS

Mia and Barbara are two Italian ladies, currently living in China. They both are living abroad since a couple of years.
For the Christmas holidays, like most of the foreigners, they have come back in Italy. Three or more weeks, to enjoy the warm atmosphere of their homeland.
How are these kind of Christmas holidays for expats? Very busy, of course: visiting friends and relatives, having lunches and dinners, eating a lot of delicious Italian dishes and drinking plenty of wine! And enjoying the warmth of Italian family!
But husband's work is calling: let's go back in China!
Mia is preparing luggages with very sad hearth: she enjoyed very much to stay with her family and every good-bye is more difficult than the last one. She would like to stay a little more... she couldn't meet all friends she wanted to, the time was too short.
When the plane lands in Shanghai, she stares sadly at the gray foggy. How she's missing her beautiful garden in Italy! She won't see her roses blooming, even this year. She's fighting to hide the tears, she doesn't want her husband to see her cry.
A driver is waiting for them outside the arrivals. Like every time, the misunderstandings start immediately. She's very tired about that, really tired to deal every single day with the attitude of the Chinese: so different from the Italians!
Barbara instead, is very happy to go back to China! In Italy she found the same, old family problems: the sister doesn't speak with her anymore and every Christmas dinner is a drama. And then: forced to stay home because every single relative wanted to visit them. It could be pleasant, but not when you have to cook from morning to evening for your never ending guests! And clean the house, and look after children, and make a lot of phone calls... is this holiday?
Besides, the general atmosphere in her place is not so nice: many in her town have lost the job and people are very angry, disappointed, unhappy. The economical crisis seems to be endless and the political situation is not better.
For Barbara, China means dynamism and activity! In China her children enjoy the international school (a really good opportunity to learn English in a proper way!) and she has a lot of time to spend to attend Mandarin lessons, to discover new places, to socialize. She has known a lot of new,interesting people!
Unlike Barbara, Mia feels very lonely: her best friends are in Italy and during her time abroad she couldn't forge deep relationships: expats are coming and going and friendship is necessarily superficial.
Happy new year, Mia and Barbara: your way to experience life abroad is totally different and your challenge in the new year won't be the same. As our, of course. Each of us lives expat life in a different way and I hope that 2014 will bring us strength, energy and enthusiasm to cope large and small difficulties!

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