Many people live in China and blog about it. Many feel the need to share their Chinese experience with the world and process their thoughts better in doing so. But here’s a blogger whose point of view differs, because she doesn’t just limit herself to words. Ruth’s China is as a colorful mosaic of illustrations, drawings, pictures and words; a joyful voyage combining art, technology and the one-of-a-kind approach of a very talented young lady, who made China her home. Chinese Tools brings to you China Elevator Stories, one of the most unique blogs about China.
Tell us a little more about yourself. What brought you to China?
It all started in a small town in Germany. One day in 2004, my sister had her house warming party. One of the people attending was a Chinese who had been living in Germany for many years. He introduced me to some Chinese characters and told me the stories behind those characters. I loved the fact that you could see whole stories in only a single character.
A year or two into the future, I was about to graduate from high school. I had studied graphic design but couldn’t picture myself sitting in front of a computer in Austria for all of my life. So I signed up for a major in translations and Chinese studies. I later skipped the translations part, but Chinese has stuck with me ever since.
My love for the Chinese language is what initially brought me to China. The first time I went to China was back in 2005, when I spent a week in Beijing. Four years after that, I studied a year abroad in Kunming. After graduating and working two different jobs in Austria, I felt bored and exhausted at the same time. That’s when I said that’s it. I quit my jobs, packed my backpack and traveled a few weeks across China. I planned to look for a job in China after that.
I ended up in Shenzhen, where I worked as an illustrator and met a great Chinese guy. We got married and just had a baby boy.
Which one of your illustrations best describes China?
My illustrations all tell different stories of life in China. If I had to choose one that best describes China, I would choose A Suitcase Filled With String Beans. It shows a woman who gets on a train and takes a suitcase filled with string beans and other vegetables with her.
The illustration tells a lot about life in China: The woman gets on a long train ride to see her daughter. Her daughter lives in a place far away from home. She probably went there in search for a better job, a better life. Maybe she went there to earn money and support her family back home. The woman takes vegetables with her to give her daughter a feeling of home – a place her daughter doesn’t get to go back to very often. Just like this woman, millions of fathers, mothers, children and lovers have taken this journey before to visit their loved ones who live in faraway places.
How did you come up with the name of your blog? What is the idea behind it?
When I first came to Shenzhen, I had a lot of time in my hands. So I thought about writing a blog. I had a conversation in a cab and in an elevator, which gave me the idea for my blog. After having a rough idea about what kind of stories I’d like to tell, coming up with a name for my blog was the easy part. The decision was between China Cab Stories and China Elevator Stories. I chose the latter.
I wanted to tell stories of Chinese people in a unique way; a way that makes people in other parts of the world understand the various facets of life in China; stories that show a colorful picture of China.
When we talk about China, we like to generalize. But in a country as big as China, generalizing often doesn’t show the whole picture. That’s where my blog comes in. I tell individual stories, short stories, stories taken from real-life events in China. These stories work together in creating a fuller picture of the different realities of life in China.
How has keeping a blog helped you understand China better? Can you think of one thing that you wouldn’t know about China had you not been blogging?
Sometimes, I have an idea for a story I want to write, but I’m missing some important links. That’s usually where Google, my husband, or both come in. Other times, my husband tells me a story, which inspires me to write a blog post. There are things I certainly wouldn’t have bothered asking or looking up if I didn’t write a blog.
One thing I wouldn’t know about China if I hadn’t been blogging is the concept of Chinese spirits. I asked my husband and did a little research online about spirits after writing three short articles about ghosts.
There are so many different spirits and different influences like Chinese folklore, Buddhism and Taoism. It’s a very interesting topic and I’m only scratching the surface with the stories I feature.
Name one of the weirdest conversations with locals you’ve had!
One of the weirdest conversations I’ve had was when a female massage therapist told me that my breasts are almost non-existent. I don’t have a problem with the size of my breasts, but it was definitely surprising to hear someone be so bold. At the beginning of coming to China, I would think it weird that people can be so straightforward when asking questions. I felt uneasy if strangers asked about my income or relationship status. Today, I’m used to these kinds of questions and enjoy a good conversation, no matter how weird it would have felt to talk about these things at the beginning of my stay in China.
What are the biggest cultural issues that surfaced with your pregnancy?
In China, a pregnant woman is seen as somebody who needs to be taken care of. While I did enjoy the fact that my in-laws helped out with cooking when my husband and I were exhausted from the day or getting a seat on an overcrowded subway, it was sometimes challenging to be seen as so fragile.
People were constantly worried about my or my unborn baby’s health. In Austria, a pregnant woman is seen as very independent and sometimes there seems to be a lack of awareness that you just need more rest than others or help with some tasks like cooking when you’re pregnant. A balance between the two extremes would be ideal.
What’s your advice to learners of the Chinese language?
Immerse yourself in Chinese culture as much as possible. Learning Chinese is not only about learning all those characters, but also about understanding the importance of culture in language learning. If you’re not in China, watching Chinese TV shows, listening to Chinese music and using Chinese language learning apps on your phone will help you improve your Chinese.
What’s your advice to those thinking of moving to China? Any dos and don’ts?
Respecting your host country’s culture is really important. Keep in mind that things in China work differently, not worse than in your own country. As to dos and don’ts, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to living abroad. I don’t believe in rules that are too absolute. China is a country in flux and while there are some cultural faux pas that should be avoided, at the same time, Chinese are very forgiving and you’ll learn on your way.
How do you envision the near future? Is China the place you want to be?
We’re currently splitting time between Austria and China. I have given birth to our son in Austria and we’re staying here for a few months’ time. We’ll be back in China soon. We want our son to get to know both of our home countries, cultures and languages and hope that he gets to appreciate both of his parents’ worlds. In the near future, China is a big part of the picture. You can expect to read many more China Elevator Stories in the coming years.