Tuesday, October 24, 2017

5 THINGS YOU CAN DO (ONLY?) IN CHINA

Living in Suzhou for some years already, I realized that there are peculiar things that you can do in China. Can you do these in your place? In Italy not for sure!



things you can do in China


1) EATING YOUR BREAKFAST ON THE STREET. In Italy, we seldom eat breakfast outside. When we do it, that means we are sitting in a fancy coffee shop, savoring a fragrant croissant and drinking the perfect cappuccino. For this reason, imagine how startled I was when I discovered that most of the Chinese eat breakfast on the street.  But after five years in China, I think that biting into a warm baozi directly from the plastic bag which is wrapping it, on your way to the office, is one of the pleasures of life.

2) GOING OUT WEARING A BLUE SHIRT, GREEN SKIRT, YELLOW SHOES AND PURPLE BAG.
We Italians are obsessed with fashion. We could die for the wrong clothes match. Maybe we exaggerated it a bit, but we really care. Here in China, on the contrary, you could go out with the first thing you found in your wardrobe, without anybody noticing it. Dressing is a practical matter: clothes serve the use of making you feel warm, protect you from wind, sun or rain, cover your private parts. So, why should be so important to match the right color? I’ve never been a fashionista, and I believe that being free to wear whatever you want this extremely liberating! 

3) BRINGING YOUR OWN WINE (AND BREAD!) TO A RESTAURANT. 
Here in Suzhou, in autumn, is very popular to eat the hairy crabs. My husband likes them, and a couple of time he went with his friends to the crab restaurant. Their only concern was that being a typical Chinese place, they didn’t have white wine to drink or bread to soak up the spicy sauce. So, no problem: they just brought in their own bread and wine, and nobody complained or said that they couldn’t do it!

4) WATCHING OUTSIDE THE WINDOW AND ASKING YOURSELF: WAS THAT BUILDING ALREADY THERE YESTERDAY?
I’m not kidding: every time I watch out of my window I notice a new building popping up from the skyline. The speed in developing new areas is incredible, workers work day and night, and a skyscraper is done in few months. 

5) WALKING YOUR DOG IN PAJAMAS. 
Wearing pajamas on the street isn’t considered rude or strange in China. Instead, the one who can go out in his pajamas is regarded as a wealthy person, since he doesn’t need to dress up and go to work.
Even if nowadays fewer people go out with their night dresses (famous is the fight of Shanghai Municipality in 2010, before World Expo, to educate people not to do it), you can still see someone wearing slippers and quilted jammies on the street, especially at night when they walk their dogs.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

7 WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR WRITTEN ENGLISH

In today’s world write in a clear and fluent English is the key to reaching a larger audience. It has been a challenge for me, but I found some enjoyable ways to improve my writing.


I started my Italian blog Cucinanto.com in 2012. Back then, the idea of writing in English was simply unbelievable for me. After a while, though, I realized that having an English blog was the key to reaching more readers. I found the courage and started this blog. It was 2013, and my writing skills were everything but good. It took me a whole week to write a single post. After a while, I gave up.
But this year something changed: I released the English version of my novel and writing in English became the priority for me. I need to have an English blog! So, I started studying hard to improve my writing skills. I like this challenge: write in a clear and fluent English is vital to produce interesting blog posts, it can help me to find more websites on which publish my work, and it’s also important to post on Facebook or Twitter without making mistakes.

I’m still in the process, it takes effort and time, but I’m enjoying!

Today I’d like to share with you some of the tricks I use to study written English having fun. Methods that are not boring at all and not time-consuming.

So, you want to improve your written English? Let’s see if my five ‘secrets’ can help you!

1) READ ENGLISH EVERY DAY looks like a silly tip? Be honest: are you reading English every day? Are you googling in English, reading the news in English, watching Tv series in original language with English subtitles? Is the last book on your night table in English? 
I like to follow blogs about my favorite subjects and print some of the more interesting posts. I read them a couple of time, highlighting the words and expressions that I find more useful and original. Then I copy them on my vocabulary notebook (see point 7), and I use them to complete the next point.

2) WRITE ENGLISH EVERY DAY another silly tip, right? And yet, if you don’t commit to your goal to improve your written English by exercising every day, you will never achieve any decent result. The best way to be consistent is to set a weekly schedule, to decide in advance how many words you will write each day. 100, 500 or 1000 depends on how much time you want to dedicate to this project, but once you decide a number, stick to it. 
There are two ways to exercise your writing skills: the first, think about a theme and develop it, like writing a blog post, an article, a letter. The second is to write freely for 10 minutes letting the words flow, without caring about spelling, grammar, or topic: just let your hand write down everything that comes out from your mind. Both of this methods are useful: if the first one lets you develop a text-structure understanding and a proper vocabulary, the second will boost your creativity.

3) CHECK YOUR WRITING you should check what you produced. Don’t do it right after you wrote it though: wait some hours or a day, to be able to review it with a fresh mind. Check the spelling, the grammar, see if your sentences make sense. Rewrite your piece if needed. If you know a native speaker, a teacher or someone very good in English, you could ask them to help you. If you don’t know anybody, there are some great tools on the web (see point 5).

4) READ ALOUD a way to check if your writing flows and is fluid is to read it aloud. By reading, you can feel the music of the words, you can listen to the rhythm of your writing. Is your work making sense? Do the ideas flow logically? How about the punctuation? You could also ask a friend to read it aloud for you.

5) USE THE RIGHT TOOLS the most important tool you need is an excellent online dictionary: it has to be complete, easy to use, updated and with many choices of synonymous and antonymous.
Another great tool that can help you to improve your accuracy is GRAMMARLY. This app can help you check your spelling, grammar and has even a plagiarism checker tool. You can get the free version, which is already very complete and will automatically check everything you type on the web (emails, social media post).
I opted for the premium version so I can check more kind of mistakes - like correctly spelled words used in the wrong context - and I can get suggestions for a better word choice. It’s an invaluable help if English is not your first language, but can be very useful also for natives who want to write mistake-free.

6) HAND COPY take a pen, a piece of paper and copy the inspiring works of others. Sounds unattractive? Studies show that handwriting is an effective way to stimulate your brain and learn better. Copywork was one of the most used methods to teach children how to write and can be, for you, the key to becoming a better writer. It will develop your spelling, grammar, and focus. In the beginning, choose something short - a post or an article that you enjoy. Set aside ten - fifteen minutes each day to sit at your desk and to copy it. After a week you may already see the improvement!

7) KEEP TRACK OF YOUR NEWLY KNOWN VOCABULARY keep a vocabulary notebook in which you can write down all the interesting words or idiomatic sentences you’ll find on your way. You can review your list every day and use it to exercise (for instance, you can decide to write a small story using 10 of your favorite words or expression). 


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

BEING PREGNANT AND GIVING BIRTH IN A CHINESE HOSPITAL

My third son was born in 2015 at Kowloon Hospital, Suzhou. Why did I choose a Chinese hospital? 


I could say it was because I wanted a genuine experience, but the truth is that the luxurious clinics in Shanghai are deadly expensive and I didn’t want to go bankrupt. I already knew I would have had a C-section, and spending more than 20.000 Euro for the delivery was not really the case. The Chinese hospital was much more affordable.

Having a baby in China, for foreigners, is always a matter of money.  If you are a young couple and you are already planning a pregnancy, you can take out a maternity insurance (usually not included in the normal plans), but this is also very expensive, and sometimes your employer doesn’t agree to include it in the benefits. We didn’t have a maternity plan, so everything was on us. We did the math and discovered that giving birth in the hospital would cost more or less like buying a return plane ticket for me to go to Italy (and having the baby there) and for my husband and my other two children to visit me a couple of times. So, we decided I would stay in China. 

What is it like to give birth in China? What are the differences compared to Europe?

The hospital I chose had a VIP section with nurses who could speak good English. They translated everything and were nice. They accompanied me as I did all my tests: blood tests, ultrasound – basically all medical test you may need when you are pregnant. The quality of the medical experience was fine and I didn’t notice any lack of hygiene.

I saw the doctor every month as I did in Italy for my first two children. She measured my belly, asked me about weight, asked me if I was feeling fine. The usual questions. Strangely enough though, nobody EVER visited me inside the place where children come out. And they told me to stop swimming from the 24th week. And they made me sign a paper in which I declared I didn’t want to take my placenta after the delivery and I agreed to donate it to the hospital. 

I didn’t do the amniocentesis because they offered to run a special DNA test, with which they can see if the baby has chromosomic syndromes. In Italy, this test is still uncommon and very, very expensive. 

But when it came to be checked into the hospital, things changed. The room was different as I remembered when we visited the ward: it wasn’t in as good condition as I remembered – and it was rather dirty! And the nurses and doctors barely spoke any English. 

Luckily, that was my third child and I was feeling relaxed enough not to worry about it. 

I had the chance to practice my Mandarin and learned many useful medical words, so not only did I give birth to my third child, but I also had a crash course in Chinese medical terminology. Lucky me!

And, moreover, while my friends who gave birth in the well-known clinics of Shanghai had a real chef preparing food for them, I could eat (?) some traditional and healthy soup instead.

Chinese soup
Yummy and healthy


Sometimes communication was a problem, me not understanding Mandarin and them not speaking English, so the only way to communicate was through the phone translator. But as you may imagine, automatic translation is not always correct and more than once I burst out laughing in front of them (and their surprised expression made me more and more amused). Actually, I wasn’t so amused just before the surgery, when my body had already been tied to the operating table: what if I couldn't tell them something was wrong? What if I couldn’t explain my feelings? As these thoughts went through my head, I began to feel dizzy and my eye span blackened. I took a deep breath and tried to calm down, I closed my eyes and waited for that bad sensation to dissolve. A few minutes later I was fine again. They had taken the baby from my womb and I heard him crying: the best sound a mom can hear from her new-born son! I suddenly felt relaxed: he was fine.

Postnatal care was also slightly different from the one I had received in Italy. For instance, they press your womb a couple of times after the C-section, to make all the blood flow away quickly. This is very painful and I hated it! The nice thing is that they give you painkillers (in Italy they didn’t!).

They don't wash the baby immediately, but only when he (or she) is ready to go back home. And they make them swim a little bit in the warm water like in this picture.

Isn't he cute?


In China there is a very specific postnatal routine that a mom should follow: they call it the “to do the month”, but I will tell you about this in one of the next posts!

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