All posts by Charlotte

Spring Fruits and Vegetables In China

Even though you can get fresh veggies and fruits in China all year round, they’re at their cheapest and tastiest when they’re in season. This is the time of year when, at least in the northern half of China, you can get fresh strawberries, pineapple, coconut, mulberries and asparagus. In my area (a few hours south of Beijing) this season runs from March to mid-May. After that, you may or may not be able to find these
I always get the smaller strawberries, which range from 5-10 yuan per jin (500 grams/just over a pound), since they’re sweeter and not just plumped up with water. Pineapples are great because the sellers will cut the skin off with a knife and nifty tool. Expect to pay a little more for this service; it will save you tons of time and scratched hands. We soak the pineapple in a bowl of salt water for 10-15 minutes to make it less acidic. A pineapple will cost 5-15 yuan depending on the weight and if they remove the skin. You can often find pineapple sticks being sold on the street for 1-2 yuan per stick.
Coconuts are tons of fun since you can drink the water and then crack them open to get out the meat. Eat it as is or chop it up to put in granola bars, shred it and dry it or blend into coconut milk. When I make coconut milk I save the meat and toast it in the oven. Due to the high fat content, the result tastes and smells a lot like fried hash browns. So yummy!  Coconuts are 5 yuan/jin right now, though sometimes they’re sold by the piece, and I’ve paid 8-10 yuan for each one.
Coconuts aren’t very popular in my town so you can’t buy them already opened with a straw to drink the water, but it’s not too hard to open them. Remove the little tuft of hair (as I think of it as) and then you’ll see the three eyes. One of them is easier to open than the others. Open it with the tip of a small knife and then insert a straw or invert it over a large glass for the water to drain into. The water tastes best when it’s chilled.
To crack open the coconut, the easiest way I’ve found it to take it outside and just slam it onto the ground a few times. Collect the pieces and go home to wash them off. Then scrape the meat off with a spoon. For granola bars I’ll chop the coconut meat with a big knife or toss it in the blender.
For coconut milk, I use about 1 cup of coconut meat to 4 cups of room temperature water. Blend it together, add sweetener if you need it, and then strain it through cheesecloth. Cover and refrigerate the milk; it’s best used within 24 hours. Then use the shredded coconut in cookies, granola bars or toast and eat fresh out of the oven!
Asparagus is expensive; 12 yuan/jin or more. It’s not always good and I always have to remove an inch or two at the bottom, but it makes for a nice treat. I roast it in the oven with some olive oil, sea salt and chopped garlic or garlic powder. Cook it for about 40 minutes at a medium heat to get it tender with a crispy outside.

“Happy Winter Vacation” Homework

To me, it’s an oxymoron to use the words happy, vacation and homework in the same sentence, but in China it’s the norm. Every holiday kids get even more homework than usual to complete. For this winter vacation, which should be about 25 days or so (we still don’t know when they have to go back to school), my first grade son has two workbooks with 54 pages in each. One is Chinese and the other is Math.
But wait! There’s more…
This morning we had a parent’s meeting to listen to the teacher brag on the top-scoring students and criticize the ones who got the lowest scores. Then they gave us a paper which outlined the rest of the homework, on top of the 108 pages that we started.
He has to
  • memorize the first two stories in his new Chinese book
  • learn to read and write the words from the first four units
  • memorize the math facts up to 100
  • memorize half of a famous book about morals
  • read at least 2 books every day
  • write six “big” pages of Chinese words
  • do a page of 20 math problems every day
I know I’m forgetting some of it and there’s one thing that I don’t exactly understand.
So it looks like we’ll be having “school” time in the mornings, broken up by bits of play, reading and flashcards.

Having A Baby In China: Embassy Regulations

I know a few people that were born abroad and had dual citizenship as kids, so I just assumed that things worked the same in every country. Not so. China doesn’t allow dual citizenship, so if you’re having your baby in China, you need to decide if she’ll stay Chinese (which is automatic due to birth) or transfer to your or your spouse’s nationality.

For Americans there are different requirements based on which parent is American and if/when the couple got married. I suggest checking your country’s embassy’s citizen services website as soon as possible so that you know all of the requirements and can get everything in order. For couples who were married at the time of the baby’s birth, things are pretty easy and straight forward. There’s a lot of paperwork involved, but just make a checklist of everything you need, go through it one-by-one and it’s not so bad.

We decided that our kids would get American citizenship, and at the start of my third trimester I filled out all of the necessary papers and had my mom send a new transcript from my college and tax returns for my whole adult life (proof that I am indeed American). I also put together a photo album documenting our marriage and the pregnancy. Even with all of this I was still interrogated beyond what I’d expected and was terribly nervous the entire time. It was a woman who questioned every little piece of paper and up until she signed the papers approving his citizenship, I wasn’t sure he would get it.

So I prepared even more with my daughter. I updated my photo album, got a new transcript, added the most recent tax forms and job records and, wouldn’t you know, it was a breeze. The very personable guy that we interviewed with didn’t even open my new transcript (had to order another because it was opened) or look at any of the records beyond our passports. He looked through the photo album and commented on photos in a friendly, conversational way and then congratulated our baby on becoming an American citizen.

As I noted previously, regulations changed slightly between my pregnancies. One was that photos documenting the pregnancy are now required. For my son it was just something extra I did. I’m not too into maternity photos, so I’m glad I caught this change or else I probably wouldn’t have had more than one or two. I took monthly photos and added them to my photo alubm, along with updating it to include pictures of my son’s growth over the years.

The American embassy does recommend you file for the report of birth abroad and citizenship and Social Security Number as soon as possible, but you can wait too. Most American couples make this their first stop on the way home from the hospital, but if you’re part of a Chinese couple, mother and baby may not be allowed out for the first month to 40 days. For our son we waited until he was 3-months old but with my daughter we took her a week after my zuo yue zi was over.

Other posts in the Having A Baby In China series:

Holiday Schedules in China

Growing up, my schools always made yearly schedules of which days we’d be off of school for teacher meetings and special events, when Christmas, Easter and summer break started and ended. The most difficult thing about planning our vacations was waiting for my dad to get his chance, in January, to pick his four weeks for the year. Once that was done, my mom wrote  could consult it to make travel plans without hesitation.
This kind of situation would almost never happen in China, save for a family that works for international companies and has the kids enrolled in international schools. Even then, it would highly depend on who’s running said company and school.
When I was teaching there were almost always last-minute changes. One year I went back to America during the Chinese New Year. I planned to come back just two days before school started, and I did. I called the school to find out my work schedule and they said that there was still another week of the holiday; something had come up which caused them to change this.
Another example, at the beginning of this semester we were told that exams would be February 2. I have in written in my planner. This past weekend I talked to my son’s music teacher and she told me exams would be February 6 and school would be out around February 13. And once he is actually done for the semester, we have no idea when school starts until the teacher calls us.
Be flexible and go with the flow. You’ll just get frustrated and angry if you don’t.
I do think you’ll find schools in large cities (Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai) to be a bit different since they’re dealing with more people and from larger areas.
There is an official Chinese holiday schedule that’s put out by the government. You can view it as a neat infographic here. Most companies and schools follow it. The key word being ‘most.’
But back to the public sector. My husband is lucky enough to work in a small hospital where holidays are pretty strictly adhered to. He and his colleagues take turns working on holidays (yes, they just have a bare-bones staff there on holidays), as do employees of other government owned enterprises. A lot of stores and restaurant will be open, taking opportunity of all the people who have extra time and cash.
The Chinese New Year is the exception. During that week, our town is like a ghost-town. Shops used to be closed almost the entire seven days. My first year here, my friend and I went out traveling and returned on New Year’s Eve to find that everything, except KFC, was closed. We’d been gone a week so we’d emptied our fridge and had little to eat at home. A lot of chicken was consumed that week! Now shops and markets are usually closed for at least 2 days and have limited hours on the other days. Restaurants and shops that employ migrant workers close up for as long as a month so they can return home.
Before the New Year, it’s essential to stock up on anything that you’ll need for at least a week. Also be sure to pay your bills since you may or may not be able to pay for electricity when you find it turned off during the holiday. I have run out of electricity before, fortunately not at the holidays.

Feminine Products In China

I never figured I’d blog about this topic, but seeing as this site is meant to help expat women living in China, I’d be remiss if I didn’t discuss it. That special time once a month, when a special visitor comes.
One thing you’ll notice is that things are smaller in China: I wear an American large top, a recent shirt I bought says it’s a 4XL! Bags of chips come only in single serving bags. There are no gallon pails of ice cream; the largest containers I’ve seen are smaller than the Ben&Jerry’s that I can consume in a single day. So it should come as no surprise that pads come in packages of five or six. Yes, enough for a day…maybe. You have to fill your cart with five to six packages each month. I used to hit up a couple of different stores, all within walking distance of my house, just because it felt strange to buy so many.
Tampons are virtually non-existent in Chinese shops. In large cities you’ll be able to find them in foreign stores, but if you’re brand-loyal, bring a stash with you.
I like the Whisper brand which is like the American brand Always. They’re more expensive (6-7 yuan for a package of 5) but are lightweight and do their job.

A few years ago I won a Diva Cup from a blog. I thought it would be interesting and it’s worked really well and I can get buy with just a package of liners (which, oddly enough, come in packs of 18-20). I love that the cup is reusable and easy to take care of.

Just last week I learned about these sea sponge tampons that can be used for the same purpose. I’m intrigued and might pick some up the next time in the States.
On a related note, I’ve never seen medicine for cramp, pain relief or PMS. I never dealt with any of this until after my son was born and even then it was minor. I’ve since discovered that Evening Primrose Oil softgels are very helpful in combatting PMS. I’d taken it prior to the birth of my daughter, and then kept taking it since I had so much left. When I found that it’s good for PMS, I bought more and continued taking it. I didn’t notice a difference until I stopped taking it–for no reason other than that I was too lazy to take one each day–and then my mood fluctuated as much as the tones in a Chinese sentence!
An interesting cultural note, apparently Chinese women are told to do little housework during this time of the month and girls are exempt from PE class when their monthly visitor arrives. I know in the summer months I see a lot of the middle school girls sitting in the bleachers while the rest of the kids are our for PE. At Speaking of China, blogger Jocelyn writes about how her Chiense husband takes over the cooking and cleaning so that she can rest for a few days each month. How nice is that?

Having A Baby In China

There’s so much to share about living in China…with or without kids! I should have started this blog years ago, but now’s better than never.

First up, I’m going to tackle the subject of having a baby in China. Yes, I know that a lot of Western women go back to their home countries to have their babies (and a lot of Chinese women are going abroad so that their kids get foreign citizenship), but for some of us, it’s far more practical to have them here.

Both of my kids were born here, in local small-town hosptials, and had great care. A different kind of care than you’d get in the West, but we were well taken care of.

Due to the cost of going back to America, plus the fact that I don’t have any sort of health insurance, going back was never an option or came across our radar until I was about 7 months pregnant with my second child. The law is kind of murky about second children, even for foreigners since any child born in China is considered Chinese.  Even after transfering foreign citizenship to your child, in the eyes of the country, the child is still Chinese.

That said, get your baby’s citizenship changed as soon as you can. I had to follow the Chinese practice of zuo yue zi where women can’t leave the house for a period of time, usually a month to 45 days. But I know most couples who are both foreigners and live in Beijing will make the embassy their first stop on their way home from the hospital.

That said, my first piece of advice is to find out what your country requires for transfering citizenship to your baby if he or she is born abroad. The American embassy has different policies depending on if the couple are both Americans, the father is, the mother is, they are married or they’re not married. And remember to check their site throughout your pregnancy. I’m sure they don’t change things all that often, but we did find some significant changes between our first and second child.

In future posts I’ll talk about:

  • the American Embassy regulations
  • prenatal vitamins and radiation smocks
  • prenatal hospital visits
  • birthing classes
  • breast feeding
  • shopping for baby
  • delivery
  • the Chinese zuo yue zi (Moon Month)

Your turn: What questions do you have about having a baby in China? Leave me a note or email me at CharlotteEdwardsZhang (at) gmail (dot) com and let me know.

The Best Books and Flashcards for Learning Chinese

The first book that I used for learning Chinese was Chinese in 10 Minutes A Day.  While I did learn a lot of words and enjoyed the short lessons and activities, I didn’t like that it only used pin yin. That’s not practical for living in China. Hardly anyone over the age of 55 studied it in school and even the teenagers I know often forget the pin yin for words. The only place I regularly see pin yin is in my son’s school books. This new edition is probably more helpful since it includes a CD with audio so you can learn how to speak the words correctly.

If you want to study words on your own, I highly recommend the two 250 Essential Chinese Characters
books. I have the old edition of both the books shown above and the two sets of flashcards. The new sets are aligned with the HSK exam, a Chinese proficiency exam that colleges use to admit foreign students, and have fewer cards per set.


There are now three sets of Chinese character flash cards, each with the cards, a booklet and audio. Be sure to order the paper version, not the Kindle one, if you want the cards! I personally love the cards and wouldn’t use them much, nor would the kids, if they were on the Kindle.

I love that they put as much info on each card as possible. They show both the simplified and traditional characters, plus the stroke order on the front. On the back is the pin yin, the radicals, a sentence with the word and up to four additional words that the character is a part of.
There were several typos and errors in set two of the old edition of Chinese Flash Cards ; I hope they’ve fixed that for their new edition. The reviews on Amazon look great, and the cards are now laminated to resist wear and tear and they come with a ring to clip them all together. I’m pretty sure my sets are missing a few cards because they’ve been lost over time with four people having used them and enduring four moves.
Rather than finishing out my collection with sets three and four (three is super expensive!) I think I’ll just purchase the new ones since they’ll get used for many more years. Also the new set comes with a CD, which the old one didn’t have, and the little booklet is a handy reference tool for looking up words quickly.


I also have Reading & Writing Chinese  which is a nice resource, though I’ve not used it to study from directly. Currently it’s my go-to for finding the meaning of words on my son’s homework. I love the Pleco app, but sometimes it’s just nice to have an old-fashioned book to make notes in.
What are your favorite resources for learning Chinese?
(Affiliate links go to Amazon and won’t change your purchase price, though I do get a small commission.)

Chinese Dumplings RecipeStep-By-Step Guide to Making Chinese Dumplings


Chinese New Year Chinese dumplings
Freshly made dumplings

Do you like eating those delicious packets of meat and veggies otherwise know of as jiaozi? I do enjoy them from certain restaurants, and we always eat them on the Chinese New Year but we don’t often eat them at home. They are time consuming to prepare, especially if you make the wrappers from scratch, but are a great activity for the whole family to enjoy. Even toddlers can get involved in the process!


Earlier this year I wrote a blog post for My Kids’ Adventures on how to introduce kids to the Chinese New Year and make homemade Chinese dumplings, or jiaozi.


You can learn some of the history behind the country’s biggest, most important holiday, see pictures of us making the dumplings and get a yummy recipe for dumplings and dipping sauce over at My Kids’ Adventures.

Chinese New Year Chinese Dumplings
Piping hot chinese dumplings or jiaozi filled with pork and cabbage.

Bring Your Own Towels

Chinese hand/bath towels
Itsy-bitsy Chinese hand towels
If you must have a big, super-sized, fluffy bath towel pack your own–and a spare–as large bath towels are not regularly used or sold in China.
My first two weeks in China I used a hand towel that had been left by previous teachers. Don’t ask why I didn’t bring my own, but when you’re limited to 150 pounds of luggage I guess things like towels don’t seem so important. Finally we made a trip to Beijing and after hours of searching found what could best be described as a light beach towel. It was big, but wasn’t plush and ended up thoroughly wet after each use. On the plus side, dryers are rare so everything gets air dried and my second towel is still going strong after nine years of near daily use and weekly washings!
Fast forward two years. I move in with my husband and see that he has no bath towel. He uses the small hand towel to dry off, one section of his body at a time and ringing out the excess water as he goes. He laughed, and still does, at my use of a bath towel.
Chinese washcloths
Three colorful washcloths that are in our bathroom at the moment.
Every time I go swimming the women in the locker room are drying off with their little washcloths or hand towels and pay even closer attention to me when I pull my plush bath towel (left behind after my mom’s visit) and wrap it around my body in an attempt to maintain some dignity.
So with that, I suggest that you at least bring one towel that you like if you’re going to be living outside of a major city. When it’s 45 degrees in your house in early November, before the heat gets turned on, you’ll be glad you’re wrapped in warmth after your shower rather than blotting your body dry one 5-inch section at a time!