The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

RANDOM NOMAD: Jo Gan, Director of Foreign Teachers, Author & Blogger

Born in: Columbia, Missouri USA
Passport: 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.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to subscribe for email delivery of The Displaced Nation. That way, you won’t miss a single issue. SPECIAL OFFER: New subscribers receive a FREE copy of “A Royally Displaced Tea.”

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14 responses to “RANDOM NOMAD: Jo Gan, Director of Foreign Teachers, Author & Blogger

  1. lifebehindthewall July 13, 2011 at 10:53 pm

    wonderful … Please let me in i have many wonderful things to share… and I have corn flavored candy….! … and salt water ice cream…. ! Who’s your new displaced BFF… huh?

  2. Kate Allison July 14, 2011 at 9:05 am

    Forget teaching English, Jo – I think you should be a couples therapist! Your coping techniques for an interracial marriage should be adopted by all couples, regardless of whether they’re interracial or not.

    And maybe it’s because I’m all revved up for the release of the final Harry Potter movie on Friday (stay tuned for my Potter post that day, too) but your menu has distinct Hogwarts undertones. 1000 year old eggs, Dragon Well green tea…

    Yours is a great story. Love it. Welcome to TDN!

  3. ML Awanohara July 14, 2011 at 10:43 am

    I know you want to bring a Chinese person with you into The Displaced Nation to explain it, but can you tell us what you mean by their ideal of beauty being “very white and very thin”? Are you talking about their ideal for Western beauty or for themselves? If the latter, are you saying they want to look like people in the West?

    • lifebehindthewall July 14, 2011 at 11:01 am

      I mean exactly that… for themselves… they want to be as white as possible and if they have any curves, or any fat at all they are not beautiful. When I say thin I mean skeletal.. to the point that young girls are starving themselves into an unhealthy state. They think if your skin is white.. you are a higher level person..anything bigger than a size 0 to 3… is huge. If you are larger… you will be pointed at , made fun of .. and shunned. It is just that serious

      • ML Awanohara July 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm

        So do you think these beauty ideals — having fair skin and a willowy figure — have been true throughout Chinese history? Or is something else going on here — are young Chinese women trying to emulate Western fashion models?

        And in terms of whitening their skin, does that mean using those face whitening creams similar to what Japanese women use, to make themselves look as “porcelain” as possible?

      • ML Awanohara July 14, 2011 at 6:13 pm

        p.s. That does give your chosen phrase for The Displaced Nation, Ni chifan le ma?, a certain irony!

      • lifebehindthewall July 14, 2011 at 10:36 pm

        actually, most of the the time they think western women are too fat… even someone that is a size 5. I think it is the curves… that they dont particularly like. Because there was a woman here that was like a size 5/6 and she had a decent breast size and butt.. and they thought she was too fat. I think chopstick thin, and childlike .. is what they are working for… to keep that young, innocent look. And yes… just like japanese people and most Asians in general … they want to whiten their skin, and bodies; keep out of the sun by carrying umbrellas.. etc. The farther North you go.. the larger the bodies become but they try to still be as thin as possible for their frame. The obsession with white skin has been a tradition in Asian countries .. especially China for centuries… it showed if your skin was white you were wealthier and did not work outside in the sun, so you had a higher value. This is also the case in India, Korea, Tawain, Vietnam and like you said Japan.

      • ML Awanohara July 15, 2011 at 11:15 am

        Interesting… I guess Western culture had that aesthetic, too, until it became a status symbol to travel to warm climes in the winter and get a tan.

        Actually, Japanese youth flirted for a while with trying to look like blonde, tanned beach bums. The trend, which peaked around the year 2000, was called ganguro, which literally translates as “black face” — connoting “heavily sunburned.”

        Now if that isn’t a bizarre cross-cultural twist, I don’t know what is!

  4. vegemitevix July 14, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    Definately ‘yes’. Interesting that the most displaced moment was going back to the US and finding it didn’t feel like home anymore. What a wonderful affirmation for the decision she’s made to live in China.

  5. Spinster July 14, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    Interesting post. Let her into TDN. 🙂

  6. ML Awanohara July 15, 2011 at 11:09 am

    @ Spinster
    I like how you get down to brass tacks!

    I think I’ll follow Spinster’s directive and vote “yay.” Though I don’t relish the prospect of chicken’s feet — and have always been one to avoid the thousand-year-old egg (never mind the one’s w/ little chickens inside!) — I do agree w/ Kate that you have an indomitable spirit. The Chinese should be grateful to have you, and we are, too.

    Also, I feel certain TDN will need your coaching skills for the cross-cultural relationships that inevitably develop within our borders, as it were.

    BTW, I love the two examples you provided of the challenges of intercultural marriages. From the sublime(?) — other people putting their nose into your business (I guess there’s really no privacy in a country as crowded as China?) — to the ridiculous: bones and other rubbish on the table. I can personally relate to the latter. Despite spending much of my life with Asians, I’ll never — ever — get used to it!

    • lifebehindthewall July 15, 2011 at 11:43 am

      xie xie ni… (thank you) … I promise to up hold all the rule.. and to keep the secret handshake and secret dances… well.. secret… but I will happily share in experiences and knowledges I have… oh.. I will began by sharing the … ancient Chinese secret and cure alll….shhhhh…. its…. GREEN TEA… they put it in everything, ice cream, meat, dish soap, perfume, toilet cleaner, potatoe chips, candy, gum, milk and even shampoo…. it is the secret they have been hiding over here on the other side of the wall all these yrs…. shshhh dont let them know i told you guys….Thanks again for letting me in…

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