Den kinesiske mur ved Tianjin

Om mit liv som expat og verdensborger skrevet til Mette Weber (coach og rådgiver i udstationering)

My Background

My father worked for Scandinavian Airlines when I was a child and at that time the company posted crew around the world. Our family lived in Greece, in the Philippines, India, Chile, and Brazil. So I was in Kindergarten in Manila, preschool (Børnehaveklasse) in Køge, 1st grade in Delhi and Strøby, and 2nd grade in Santiago and Rio de Janeiro. From grade 3 I lived in Denmark until after graduation of High school (Studentereksamen). Then I went to Los Angeles and worked as an au pair for one year. I stayed in Denmark for one week and then took off to Switzerland where I worked for a year as a waitress (Serviertochter) in the German Wallis. During my last year in University I did my fieldwork for my master thesis in Thailand. I stayed in Songkhla in a Southern Province for 6 months. Here I conducted interviews and participant observation among mostly Buddhist NGO members and Muslim small scale fishermen. I have been travelling as a bag packer in Zambia, Tanzania, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, China, Japan, and in Europe. In January 2010 my husband went to Tianjin and we went along one month later to stay for one and a half year. Now we are all back in Denmark.

The start of a new life in China

It was not easy to start a new life in a country where you cannot communicate with anybody else but a few foreigners. The language is hard to learn and you are even illiterate because you have no clue of what the signs mean. My husband had a long drive to work so he left at 7 o’ clock in the morning and came back for dinnertime if we were lucky. I had to choose where to buy groceries and how to cook it, take the children to the new school, teach them English, and do homework with my eldest son. The weeks before arrival I had been packing up by myself in Denmark so I felt totally exhausted once we arrived in Tianjin. I remember I felt so tired and afraid that I couldn’t cope with the new struggles once Jesper had left for work and I was alone. But I did cope and just one week later everything went smooth. Then unexpected things would happen, because they do in China, and I would handle them or somebody would offer their help. From the start I took part in an international network (TICC) with monthly lunches, coffee mornings and also parties. At the lunches I would meet (mostly) ladies with many different backgrounds which was very interesting.

The advantages and disadvantages of living in Denmark

Denmark has clean air, social security, democratic rights, and most of my friends and family live in here. I can use my bike for transportation in Copenhagen. The risk of a natural disaster is very low. Tianjin is a high risk area for earth quakes (though we did not experience any). In 1974 an earth quake destroyed the whole area completely. Disadvantages: A cold, windy, wet climate. Foreseeable daily routines, and a very conservative job market with too narrow boundaries. Companies and public affairs hire someone they know or someone who looks like themselves (Rip, Rap og Rup effekten). Many Danish people expect me to make excuses for having such a “weird” education. “Oh, so this explains why you don’t have a job…”

In Denmark I find myself complaining a lot more than I did in China even though things were breaking down all the time. “Huaile” means broken or bad and this was one of the first words I got to know in Chinese. My ayi would take care of all the things breaking down in the house and she would call a maintainer or our landlord. My driver would maintain the car and have it repaired if needed. And if I needed to go somewhere my ayi could look out for our kids. In Denmark it is too expensive to have someone repair anything for us, so I rely on Jesper or myself to repair and maintain things.

The good life in Tianjin

In China I had the freedom to be an artist on full time. I decided from the beginning to prioritize the art. I occupied our guestroom and made it “mom’s room”. It was great. I was not only an unemployed person but an artist, and I did not have to write job applications. In the Danish community I was also an NNE Pharmaplan expat, and at the International school the mothers were integrated in many activities. I didn’t have to use a lot of time on cleaning, washing etc. because we could afford a housekeeper, an ayi. Besides developing my creative skills I had the time to think more deeply about  my works, so I became aware about my own style and ideas. I visited many interesting places for Chinese art and met some very interesting Chinese artists as well. Every week I had Chinese lessons at my home. I learned to speak with my ayi, to tell my driver where to go, and to bargain at the markets. During the holidays we travelled in China and had many good and exciting experiences together as a family.

Our troubles in Tianjin

The traffic was horrific. I didn’t buy a bike even though bikes were very cheap because biking would definitely increase the risk of not getting back to Denmark alive. The pollution was really bad – I don’t know how bad, but the sun did not get through the smog, so we never used sunscreen lotion in Tianjin. Every week I read several articles about food poisoning, and this news was only some of the truth, because we would probably not be informed about most of the environmental disasters happening. I would usually hear such news about China from BBC and occasionally read about it in china Daily. The Chinese government controls the media, also the social media. Facebook and BBC’s homepage among many other Internet pages are not accessible from China.


We were very lucky to arrive in a Danish community where everybody was very helpful and I felt very secure because I was told that I could call anytime if I needed assistance. The kids could run around freely in the compound and soon made friends with other Danish kids. My sons were doing great and I got a lot more energy than I had had for years. In the beginning something in me resisted being part of a Danish community in China because my original goal was to know the Chinese culture better but all in all I am very happy that we could stay in this compound because all the kids would play together after school and that made my life so much easier as well. It also made our farewell a lot easier since we can now meet our Danish friends from China here in Denmark. Since several Danish families were leaving at the same time we can still meet in Denmark. And it is so much easier to talk about China with somebody who has been part of this life. I also made friends with my Chinese teacher. Her husband is an artist and I was invited to their home for tea and to see his art. We became quite close and talked a lot about Chinese and Danish culture.

I miss the Parents Room and the international environment at the International School in Tianjin (IST). Usually we mothers would arrive in time to get a chat before picking up our kids. This waiting time was important in order to get in contact with other families and to get information about social arrangements. I also miss the morning greetings and the welcoming smiles in IST. Every Friday morning IST had an assembly where parents could join in to watch the show. It was great to see the excitement of all the students and being part of this occasion gave the parents a good sense of belonging.

Strength and competences

Living in different countries has made me an open and tolerant person. I do not have any fixed meaning about how things ought to be. I respect people who chose to live in alternative ways or chose to take a different path than most people. However, seeing different life styles has given me many possibilities in life which has made it very difficult for me to chose my own way. I can always imagine many different settings and for me one solution often sounds as good as any other. This is my hurdle in life and being in China made me more aware of this condition. I have come to accept and be at peace with my self instead of fighting my self and my own imagination. Instead of searching for “the meaning of life” I am looking for several meanings of life in different places. I wont be afraid to pack up our things again in the future to settle down in a new country.

Tak Irene for at dele en flig af dit liv fra Kina med os andre
Mette Weber

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