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Monday, May 27th, 2013

China Bumps & Triumphs: What Ties This Expat to China




Our Beijing apartment is filled with small items that I’ve tucked into my suitcases from Canada over these past five years—items that remind me of home and the life I left overseas. Of course, my life is here now. The cheap green vase I fell in love with a decade ago and the framed drawing by my longtime friend in Toronto that has travelled with me between rented apartments and ex-partners, both sit proudly on the shelf before me. But there’s a new element here now. The floor in front of the shelf is now littered with baby toys and little shoes.


My daughter is nearly 17 months old and she is the glue that holds me here now. It’s funny, even though I fell in love with my husband and moved across the world, ostensibly for love, nothing felt exactly permanent here until she squirmed on my chest in the delivery room and then looked me straight in the eye. Something in her gaze said, “Thank you, Mom, for sticking it out. I have been waiting to meet you. I will be your ultimate bridge between these two countries. Hold me tight.”


And so, I did. I do. Every day.


My husband is Chinese and our journey as a couple has been full of bumps and triumphs, hence the blog title, “China Bumps and Triumphs.” When we met and fell in love—a process that was frightfully fast but thrilling—my Chinese was very rudimentary and his English was virtually non-existent. I have a degree in East Asian Studies, however, so my cultural interest in China and general language affinity tilted the balance towards my learning his language as our means of communication. That first year was full of foibles and fights, the drama of it percolating on a consistent flame between us that never cooled. I’ll forever recommend developing another language through the rushing rapids of love. Sometimes dangerous, always with your heart in your throat, it’s a fast-forward descent into fluency, with or without your consent!


We are both musicians professionally, and so we named our daughter “Echo” in English and “Ruyi (如一)” in Chinese, the latter being a portion of an expression which means “to live one’s life on the outside as a direct reflection of one’s inner identity.” She is our mirror. She is our merge, an echo of this wild love between us rattling off the rocks and growing more reverberant daily. She’s a big spirit, this kid, and we are so proud.


From birth to 17 months, there have been several interesting bends in the river, so-to-speak, and I have written about them extensively. In particular, our family features my mother-in-law who is a large force and likely a genetic contributor to Echo’s “big spirit!” She is our daughter’s primary caregiver and, thus, with the birth of our child, our daily family dynamic expanded from two to four almost overnight. Those were some “China bumps,” especially for me. Check out these links to read some of those stories:


And now, as my job is to speak exclusively in English with Echo, my current role as an expat mommy is to introduce my culture to this child who is half-Canadian. Despite her Chinese side being represented by the culture in which we live, her surroundings, the language on the street and the language spoken between the adults in our home, etc., not to mention the gorgeous slant of her eyes that she inherited from her daddy, Echo must grow up knowing her other cultural heritage. It is the most important job I have ever had, no contest.


So today I will leave this blog here as a way of introduction to my family and my background. I hope you’ll join me in my telling of the many “bumps and triumphs” that China delivers to expat mommies like me. Trust me, it’s a crazy ride!


For now, it’s time to pick up the toys and find a missing shoe that I can’t seem to see from my perch at my desk. I’m sure it’s here somewhere. Lately my daughter has been enjoying putting items in the toilet, so I just hope it’s not floating in there….


Until next time.


© 2013, Ember Swift. All rights reserved.

More Great Stuff You'll Love:

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The West's Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep

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Birth, Loss and In Between

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Ember Swift is a Canadian living in Beijing who gave birth to her first child in January 2012. She is also a professional musician and writer who has released 11 albums independently, toured internationally and writes for several international publications in addition to keeping three distinct blog series active. Her official website is located at

Leave us a comment!

  1. CommentsOlga   |  Tuesday, 28 May 2013 at 11:30 am

    I have been reading your posts for a while and deeply enjoyed every one of them!Thank you for your candid, beautiful writings!

  2. CommentsJohana   |  Tuesday, 28 May 2013 at 6:27 pm

    what a beautiful family you have! really like your post! looking forward to hear more of these stories!

  3. CommentsInCultureParent | Overheard on the Beijing Subway When People Don’t Think I Speak Mandarin   |  Wednesday, 17 July 2013 at 9:05 am

    […] it less. I organize a lot more time with English-speaking friends and their children and when I chat to my 17-month old for the purpose of continuous English around her, I’ve learned to ignore my Chinese environment, for the most part, and push forth with English in […]

  4. CommentsInCultureParent | Thanks to Chinese Potty-Training We’re Done With Diapers at 19 Months   |  Friday, 23 August 2013 at 11:19 am

    […] We live in China and have been pushing the EC method or “Elimination Communication” method since she was four months old. This is the fancy term for something that has been practiced in China for centuries. Children here are often fully “squat trained” (rather than “potty,” as those are newer inventions to the culture) by the time they’re 10 months old. In fact, if they can stand and squat, most of the time it means that they can also do their potty business without any fuss. Traditional Chinese methods have their advantages, for sure. […]

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