Exchanging Florida oranges for Zhejiang "Zhejiang and a few pointers for anyone looking to find themselves a Chinese beau!>>>China Travel: Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be in China?
Jo: Well, I am originally from the Midwest, however, I lived in Florida for more than 15 years. So I consider myself more of a Floridian. I worked in the mortgage field for several years and after the housing market crashed I needed to find another career. I decided to go teach English abroad, since I had been teaching English to Spanish speakers in my free time. I chose China because ever since I was a child watching kung fu movies, I loved the culture and the history. I had always wanted to visit China, so I was basically killing two birds with one stone.
China Travel: Did you write a blog back home or was it something you started here?
Jo: I really never started writing until I got here. It started out as a way to let my family and friends know what was going on here without having to write an enormous amount of emails everyday. However, once I started writing I couldn't stop. It helped me deal with all the changes and differences I encountered here and it continues to keep me sane by giving me an outlet to vent or praise.
China Travel: You're married to a wonderful-sounding Chinese man… how did you come to meet your husband?
Jo: Funny, I always get this questions… I met my husband at a bar, a Chinese dance club here in China. I was actually there waiting for someone who stood me up and he came over and offered to buy me a beer. Since few people in China speak English and even fewer Chinese men will come up to you; I was excited to talk to him. We talked for hours about everything until I had to go home. Since we had exchanged phone numbers, I called him when I got home and we talked and laughed about things for a few more hours. After that night he called me everyday like clock work; morning, noon and night. The rest is history as they say.
China Travel: It certainly is! What is the single most important piece of advice you would give a girl entering a relationship with a Chinese guy?
Jo: Wow there are so many things… I guess I would say to understand the Chinese man's sense of family and how important face is to them. Here in China it is a male dominated society and the men here expect a woman to be respectful to him, especially in front of his friends and family. You never want to make him look bad or lose face. That is a big no-no. Also, when you are with a Chinese guy, you are pretty much with his whole family. His parents and grandparents and maybe even aunts and uncles are very important to him. He will do just about anything they ask, so you can never go against the family, but when you are alone with him, you can share how you feel and if he is a good guy he will respect your feelings and ideas like my husband does.
China Travel: How much do you think your experience of China has been affected by the color of your skin?
Jo: Most definitely… skin color is a big issue here. My skin is not really so dark, it is like a honey color. However, in China my skin is very black and a lot of people will cross to the other side of the street when they see me coming on the sidewalk or clutch their bags closer when I walk by, like I will steal something from them. There is also the issue with people who don't want you to teach their kids if your skin is dark. I have found that if you have white skin, even if you do not have any education or aren't a native speaker; they will want you to teach and pay you a high salary. You can hold a Ph.D and be a award-winning teacher but if your skin is black they don't want you.China Travel: Have you had the chance to travel very much in China? Tell us about your best experience so far.
Jo: I work a lot as the Director of Foreign teachers and all my other side jobs, so I don't travel as much as I would like. However, I did travel to Putuo Shan island which is about a two hour drive from me. Here I visited the large buddha, Kwan Yin (Guanyin). I had to walk up a mountain which took me an hour or so, however, when I got to the top and saw her, I was mesmerized by the beauty and serenity I felt when I looked at her. It is just such a sacred place that you cannot help but bow your head in prayer. Just looking at her put me in a peaceful state of mind--I really didn't want to leave.
China Travel: And your worst?
Jo: Ahh my worst.. well that would be surprisingly Hong Kong. I heard a lot of hype about how great Hong Kong is and so when I went, I expected a lot. But what I found was a ton of people, some items that were priced higher than things I'd seen in NYC in the States. Everything was overpriced, and I still had trouble communicating with the taxi drivers. I was very disappointed. Yes, they do have many famous shops but the prices are extremely high--it is a rich man's playground for sure.
China Travel: You're currently based in Yuyao, Zhejiang Province, what are your top 5 recommendations for a first time visitor to get a real feel for the area?
Jo: Since Yuyao is a small city, there are not many famous things you can see. However, in a nearby village, Hemudu, you can visit a museum that holds the oldest grains of rice and farm tools found in China, over 7000-years-old. There is also Siming Mountain, where there is a beautiful view of bamboo forests and rivers where you can go rafting. The city is also known as "Plastic City" for its plastics manufacturing and you can see many factories and companies that supply products all over the world. The Jade Garden is located about 45 minutes outside of the city. It is a beautiful place of worship and tranquility. Most of all, if you come during yang mei (waxberry) season (June to July), you can taste the famous local fruit in its various delicious forms.
China Travel: What is the one thing you wish you'd known about China before arriving?
Jo: I wish I had known the eating habits a little better. I was surprised to find that the food had a lot of bones and that the local people spit these bones on the table during dinner. Also, the custom of sharing all the dishes on the table by sticking your chopsticks in them randomly. I think this and the bathroom situation, squatty potties, were the two most shocking things for me.
China Travel: What do you miss most from home?
Jo: I miss people that understand sarcasm and convenience. Nothing in China is convenient. From banking to planning a party, everything takes an extensive amount of time and energy to accomplish. You can't just order yourself a sub sandwich, or even find a sandwich, in my small city. Washing clothes, cooking food and even just finding products for my hair is a long and difficult process. I miss fast service and that since of urgency that we have in the States.
China Travel: What would you miss most in China if you were to leave tomorrow?
Jo: I would miss my friends and colleagues. They have helped me adjust to living here and have become like my second family. I would also miss the fact that I am like a superstar here. Because I look different, everyone knows my name and wants to meet me. I am the face of the school and am more popular here than I ever was in the States.
China Travel: What three words sum up your China experience?
Jo: Adventurous, eye-opening, home.
If all this has piqued your interest and you'd like to know more, or if you have a question for Jo about the cultural minefield of cross-cultural relationships, head to Life Behind the Wall and dig in!
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