Stella, China

I was born in 1984, in Hunan, the city is Changsha, in the south of China. My name is Siqi Zhang, but I also use Stella. Chinese names are very complicated for American people because Chinese language has different tones. I gave myself another name for easy pronunciation.

Because it is in the south of China, it is very different than the north. We eat rice everyday and older generation eat rice every single meal. Compared to here it is a very big city. When I was growing up in the countryside you would have house and another house combined together. Relatives live together. We have the same last name. Right now it has changed because about twenty years ago the people always need to work in farming, but now the people go from the countryside to the city to find a job. They have more money to raise the children with a better life.

Most of the people are not educated well, maybe just a few years. My grandma was not educated. She only knew how to write her name. My grandfather on my mother’s side was the manager of the farm. He was very rich, he had a boat, but after the revolution it was all upside down. He became so poor. I heard about his story. He built a house for himself. It was a very hard time to find a job. It was a hard time for him. The poor people were so jealous of him, they wanted to take him down. It was a complicated time. It happened to a lot of people after the revolution, especially if you were well educated and your family was rich. And also if you said that you don’t like Communism. Then you would have big problems.

My father had his job until he retired. He worked at the mine. It was a metal. I know the Chinese name but I don’t know how to translate it in English. It was very deep. My father’s job was just to answer the phone. But in the mine it was very dangerous and I heard that some people would die. I moved a lot of places. I was born in the city where my father was working and I went to the countryside to my stepfather’s home and also I went to my grandparents place to live in the city. Then when I was fifteen I moved to the capitol. I lived a lot of different places. My mom always just stayed at home with us. My mother was a farmer in the Communist-style and my father worked in the city. They got a divorce when I was five years old. My mother married again. My stepfather was my father’s neighbor. Divorce was not common. It was father who had a hard personality. At that time the men didn’t respect women so my father drank and hit my mom a lot so that’s why she divorced. I was five years old so I didn’t know anything. I know my father was selfish a lot. I trust my mom.

Because I always lived in different places I transferred school a lot. Maybe school has changed, but in my experience, for my generation we studied a lot. Because my parents were divorced nobody cared about me so my scores were always low. But others had their parents to help them to study, so they studied very hard. In China we went to school six days a week from eight to four, for elementary school. Right now it has changed to five days. When I was in middle school I studied English. It was required, but we only learned reading, writing and listening but didn’t learn speaking. I remember that when I was in elementary school I paid but I heard that maybe ten years ago that it changed so you don’t need to pay. Now you have ten years of education for free and you don’t need to pay until high school.   In my generation it wasn’t a lot of money, especially in the countryside.   I heard that right now that high school costs a lot of money. You don’t need to pay tuition, but you do have to pay for textbooks, uniforms, and activities and groups. And if the school is a private school common people cannot afford it.

Few of my classmates when I was in elementary or middle school later attended university. In high school some of them went to university. It wasn’t very common, but right now it is more common, but it depends on where you live. Some people make money, but still most of the people in the countryside cannot afford to go to university. Also, they need their children to make money early. You need to find a job to make money. That is the most important thing for them. It depends on what university you choose whether it is easier to get a job with a degree.

I have a degree in journalism. I am a reporter. For me university was a waste of my time. When I was studying in China I didn’t like studying. It wasn’t useful. Like when I was studying English you just learn the vocabulary, you just write it down. It was very stressful. You don’t talk, you just do paperwork. It was boring to learn. The teachers didn’t give you any activities. And my English teacher never had any conversations in English. It was the style of learning that I didn’t like. But the government said you have to. It was the rule.

Because my parents couldn’t afford my university tuition I had to find a job to support myself. So I was at work. I didn’t need to go to school. I just paid money and then school would give you the degree. Even my final tests. I just needed a few days and I finished them. My college was not the top, not a very important university. People only went to university for the degree, we didn’t need to go everyday. The teachers never gave us homework. In high school we studied very hard, but college is very different. At most of them it is easy to have a degree. Just having enough money to enroll.

I changed my job a lot during university. My first job was as a TV reporter. I was a director of the TV program. I had to organize the topic every week. We had to choose a different topic and we would go outside and take a camera and then come back and edit the video and send it to my boss. She would look at it and decide what would play. If you said anything negative it would be a waste of your time. It would never get published and you might be in trouble.

I didn’t have to go to university but also after my high school I worked outside for two years but I still decided to go to university because it was good to have a degree, good for my future. I thought it was better for me. My parents supported me. I did the degree in three years. In China, the tuition costs is not that expensive so I could afford it.

I came to the United States because I married my husband, who was born here. He is an American. We met in China. He has a friend who taught Argentine Tango and I was in Shenzhen and I took her class. She decided not to teach in China anymore and go back to the United States. We had a goodbye party for her and my husband went there because he was on vacation. We met at the party. After a few months I decided to travel to the United States. I connected with my teacher and she was not there, she was in Sweden so she recommended my husband to show me around Portland.

For international couples it is not easy to keep in touch. We have different time zones when we talk and we could not hang out. We just decided, why not? You are the right person and we decided to get married very quickly. We knew each other for about two years, but we fell in love and decided to get married in only seven days. In Taiwan. He came to Taiwan because I was traveling in Central America and I decided to go back to China. I remember that he said that I didn’t contact him for about a half a year but I remember that he said that he wanted to go to China. I asked him if he still had any plans to go back to China. Now that I was back in China I could host him like he hosted me in Portland. He said that since I didn’t contact him for half a year he thought that I forgot him totally. I changed my plan and went to Taiwan because he didn’t need a visa to go to Taiwan. He speaks Chinese too. He had been learning Chinese for ten years and always wanted to practice Chinese. We met in Taiwan and we decided to get married in seven days.

Coming to the US was pretty complicated. He had applied for a fiancee visa for me to come to the United States. I waited about half a year in China to be able to come to the United States and that was fast. Most people have to wait longer. You have to get married in one month or your fiancee visa expires and you have to go back. When I came here with my fiancee visa I wasn’t allowed to have a job and so I had nothing to do. Even when I wanted to go to PCC to learn language I had to pay international fees because I didn’t have a green card. That’s why I waited. International fees are at least twice as much, maybe three times. I asked my classmate and he said that for one class we pay about six hundred and twenty dollars and he pays about thirteen hundred dollars and he has to pay other fees. Usually it only takes one year to get a green card, but in my case it took longer because the government lost my paperwork. I had to file it again and start over again. Also we sent the check and they said the check was wrong, but it was right but the government made a mistake. I had to wait another half a year. Fiancee visas have only a one month value so you have to get married fast.

I don’t plan to become a citizen because it is easy to get American passport but it is so complicated to get a Chinese passport. I have a green card and so I can work and do whatever I want. The only difference is that when you have an American passport you can travel to lots of countries for free. That is the only benefit. For me I know for most people to vote is very important but I am more focused on my life right now. I have a one-year-old baby. We just bought a house. I want to keep studying. If I lost my Chinese passport if I want to go back in the future, then maybe my children couldn’t have any opportunities to stay in China. If I go back to China I’d have to pay an international fee. And as a Chinese person I can go to Tibet. You cannot go as an American. I want for my child to learn Chinese in the future. I don’t plan to go live there right now, but eventually I will go to China for a while. We’ll see what the situation is.

Portland was the first city in the US that I arrived in. I was used to traveling a lot in Asia and Europe. I felt impressed by the houses. In China I always see apartments, very tiny ones. Even the houses are very close together, we even share a wall. Here the houses are very big and I was surprised. I arrived in the fall season and the trees turned colors and people were so nice. In China if you say hi to a stranger then we would feel nervous about that. Here they don’t just say hi, they try to talk to you, very friendly. This was my dream in life. I don’t want to be with people who are very cold and only focused on their own life. I was falling in love with this city.

Here the people have more open minds. In China they are focused on the traditional way to do everything. In China the children never say no to their parents. If you say no, it means you don’t respect your parents and you are not a good person. People here can judge why you do or don’t say that. Maybe you are right or maybe you are wrong. In China you must follow tradition. If not, you are absolutely wrong. If you are a child you have to support your parents, you have to give them money, you have to buy a house for them.

I do like it here because in China most of the families focus on the boys, because they think the boys will stay with them. No reason, just because they are boys. Because girls will get married and follow their husband’s family, they treat them different. The fact is really that the girls take care of the parents for the rest of their lives. It isn’t fair. My mom, for example, she bought a house for my brother and she took care of my brother’s children for five years, and my mom lives with them and cooks for them and she got everything for my brother. She always asks me why don’t you give me money, give me two thousand dollars? Could you buy a phone for me? When people get married the men have to pay the family for tradition. My mom asked for money from my husband. I said no. If you still want it, I won’t be your daughter anymore. Because I travel a lot I’m not really focused on traditional culture. I don’t feel like that is fair for my husband. He works a lot. He made his money by himself. I couldn’t take his money for my mom, who will use it to support my brother’s family. I just said no. I can break with tradition but most of my friends couldn’t do that. One of my friends doesn’t have a good relationship with her husband and she said that if she said no to her family and her husband divorced her she would be by herself. She had to have a family to support her.

I was born in 1984 and my brother was born in 1981. My father had a job in the city but we lived in the countryside. The one-child policy was started by then. In the city, because China is huge, they were serious about that. But where we lived in the countryside was far away from the government. When I was born we had to follow the rules, they took money from his salary, but not that much. It was like a fine. In my friend’s family they didn’t have very much money and they had no job, they just take all them and punish them. Sometimes they would tear the house down, they take anything that can be destroyed to punish them. After the 1980s it was really really serious so that in the 1990s if they find a lady who is pregnant they will pay more attention. Is it the first one or the second one? If it is the second one they will take her to the hospital for an abortion. You will see most of the people in the 1990s with one child, or you could hide really well. You won’t have any documents from the government. You could not get any education or go someplace. Another way is if you have another baby and you know someone who doesn’t have a baby you can transfer the name to them but still raise the baby. You would have to keep it very secret. If anyone found out there would be punishment. I think my mom wanted to have more children, in the traditional way there were lots of children. In tradition, in eternal life if you have more children your family is getting stronger. If you only have one child people would look down on you. That was the traditional way that the policy upset.

I haven’t had any experiences here with discrimination. I think it depends on what kind of activities you do. My life is very simple, I am with my family most of the time. I go to school. I met mostly my husband’s relatives so of course they would be nice to me. My friends are mostly international students and we are very friendly.

But there are some misunderstandings about Chinese culture. Americans always think that Chinese food is Panda Express. Chinese people hate Panda Express. I don’t know why, but Americans really love Panda Express. Every time I cook Chinese food for my husband’s relatives they imagine it will be like Panda Express. When I show them real Chinese food they say, “That’s different! That’s not what I expected.” Also a lot of the men think that they know kung fu. They think that all Chinese people know kung fu. And when I was in Malaysia the people all think that Chinese people are rich. I’m sorry, but I’m not rich.

In China, lots and lots of people have a hard life. I’m not saying anything about the government, but people can make their lives better if they can find the reason why to do something, or why not to do something. I don’t think that people should just follow. The education is different than here. Here when you say no, people say, “why not?” In China people say no and the reason why is because I’m boss, because I’m the parent. If you have a senior position, if you have a position with the government then whatever you say I have to follow. The people don’t really think, not like in the US.