Born in: Columbia, Missouri USA
Country lived in: China (Yuyao City, Zhejiang Province): 2009-11
Cyberspace coordinates: Life Behind the Wall | Thoughts and Experiences of a Black American Woman in China (blog)
What made you leave your homeland in the first place?
I left America due to the economy. I worked in the mortgage field and when the housing market crashed, I needed to find something else to do…or be on unemployment. So I chose to take a job teaching English in China. Two years ago, I got married to a Chinese man whom I met in Yuyao. No, he wasn’t one of my students, as most people assume. I met him in a bar. He came over and asked if he could buy me a beer. We exchanged telephone numbers, and he started calling me every day, three times a day… Six months later, we were married. Yes, it was fast by most people’s standards but I’m not one to waste time — nor is he. It’s been an interesting couple of years.
Is anyone else in your immediate family displaced?
No one else in my family — except a great uncle who lived in Germany most of his life — has ever lived abroad for a long period. Some have been in the military and traveled around, but they always lived on base.
Describe the moment when you felt most displaced.
When I arrived at the airport in Shanghai — it was my very first time coming to China. My luggage had been lost, and I couldn’t communicate with anyone to tell them or report it. I felt frustrated and angry. Then once I got all the paperwork finished, I needed to take a bus to the next city. I couldn’t find the bus station, and no one could understand what I was saying. At that point, I wanted to just get back on the plane and go home.
Describe the moment when you felt least displaced.
When I went home to visit for the first time. Everything looked familiar but felt unfamiliar. I had spent a lot of time missing home, but when I finally got there, it didn’t feel right. In Yuyao, as I walk through the streets or sit in a restaurant and people recognize me, it makes me feel part of the community.
You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from your adopted country into the Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
Wow! I guess I’d like to take a Chinese person — if you’d let me in with a companion rather than a suitcase. Yeah…the way they think and perceive things is so different from us Americans. Their ideas of “face,” status, and beauty are so alien to me that I am sometimes at a loss for words to explain it. I can’t get used to the fact that face — losing face, giving face and having face — is of the utmost importance to them. Also, their standard of beauty is so different: very white and very thin. The only way for you to get an accurate view of Chinese culture would be for me to bring a Chinese person along to explain it all to you.
You’re invited to prepare one meal based on your travels for other Displaced Nation members. What’s on the menu?
Since I live in Southeast China, the menu would have to consist of:
- Steamed seafood. (I apologize in advance for its high salt content.)
- Chicken feet that have been boiled and then fried.
- Four kinds of eggs: tea eggs, thousand-year-old eggs, fried eggs with tomato, and boiled salted eggs that have been fertilized (there’s a chicken embryo inside).
- And of course green vegetables… (By the way, the Chinese call all green leafy veggies “green vegetables.”)
For dessert we would have yangmei (yumberry fruit), the local favorite.
And for drinks, a choice of:
You may add one word or expression from the country you’re living in to The Displaced Nation argot. What will you loan us?
I will choose Ni chifan le ma? (Have you eaten yet?). Everywhere you go in China, people greet you with Ni chifan le ma? Food is just so important to this culture. Weddings, birthdays, funerals — all of these events involve banquets lasting several hours. Everything tends to be associated with food, and there are many food idioms.
It’s Pocahontas month at The Displaced Nation, and we’re focusing on cross-cultural communications (or the lack). What would you say is the top challenge of an interracial, intercultural marriage — and can you recommend any coping techniques?
First I will say that the most challenging part of being in an intercultural marriage is the people around you. Usually, other people are more concerned about your marriage situation than you are, especially if you live in China. They tend to spend a lot of time telling you what is wrong, or can go wrong, with your marriage. They question the reasons you got married. For example, Chinese people will ask my husband if he married me to get a green card. He tells them: “We live in China, not America. How would a green card help me here?”
As for our personal relationship, we have learned to accept each other’s differences. If something one of us does bothers the other person, we compromise. For example, Chinese men have the tendency to put pork bones, chicken bones, sunflower seed shells, and fish bones directly on the dinner table when they are eating; I find this disgusting. So now we put a bowl beside my husband’s plate for him to discard these things. If you really want to make a relationship to work, any relationship, it takes respect, consideration, and a willingness to compromise.
QUESTION: Readers — yay or nay for letting Jo Gan into The Displaced Nation? Tell us your reasons. (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Jo — find amusing.)
img: Jo Gan hamming it up in the classroom by trying on her student’s sunglasses, taken by the student on her iPhone.
STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s installment from our displaced fictional heroine, Libby, when the Patrick family is held to ransom by an army of packing crates from their new home.
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