The Day I changed my Chinese Parents-in-law



The Day I changed my Chinese Parents-in-law

Change can be reciprocal. In my case, I have changed a lot since I first entered China.

Sometimes I am amazed on how much I have adapted over the past years. I have been willingly following the Chinese expression 入乡随俗 (ruxiang suisu): When in Rome do as the Romans do; or wherever you are, follow the local customs.

I have never thought it was difficult to adapt to Chinese live. It just came naturally, and since my other half is Chinese as well now, it is easier than ever.

When first coming to Niuji village, one of China’s more rural places, where traditions and old customs are still alive, I was put before a new challenge: Should I stick to my own customs, traditions, and behaviour? Or should I simply adapt to whatever is accepted here and make life easier for everyone? I decided to go with the last one. After all, it was me who was an outsider.

All those years I never run into trouble. Most of the customs and traditions I learned to accept and some of them even appreciate. But there are still a few thorny topics, which make me furious whenever confronted with. One of them is the treatment of animals, especially dogs.

Having a small dog at home, and being a dog lover, it is heart-breaking to see how they treat those poor creatures here in the village. I remember being at a wedding (again) and seeing a half-starved dog limping into the courtyard. He was obviously looking for food. Dirty and filthy, with one insured leg, he tried to get to whatever leftovers where on the floor, but everyone started kicking him, and the kids started to make a game out of hitting him with sticks… No one said anything! This is just one example out of hundreds!

However, even though our best friend’s life in Niuji village is still very hard, things have changed greatly since about two years. All of a sudden people started buying expensive dogs, some to show off, some bigger ones to keep the house safe from unwelcomed guests. Conditions also have changed. You see fewer starved, lonely dogs on the streets.

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Meet Benben 笨笨, our new fluffy friend

But what has shocked me (in a good sense) the most, is, when my father-in-law one day came home with a little puppy. First, I thought it was a present for me, as he knew how much I loved dogs. But when I told him, I wouldn’t be able to take care of a dog now, he told me that actually he wanted to keep the dog.

Since then things have changed dramatically in our home. Where before my father-in-law would laugh at me when I told him about keeping the dog clean and giving him a bath once in a while, he will now bath him twice a day. Where my mother-in-law would be disgusted by a dog licking her fingers, she now takes hours to play with him and let him bite her feet. They have even started asking me about dog training, and telling the neighbours how great a well-behaved dog is. They finally realized that fluffy fellow is actually a precious new family member.

We still have to work on a few things, but my parents-in-law have changed. They are now open to suggestion and don’t just put them of as crazy foreigner talk. They see the benefits and we slowing manage to immerse two different cultures, and take the best of both.

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My Mother-in-law trying to convince our new family member to drink some water

I am grateful to be part of this journey. Not just did I learn a lot about myself and cultural differences, but also did I learn to adapt the best of a new culture, and mix both into something new.

Did you ever had some similar experience where living in a different country did not just change you, but also changed the people around you?

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Anna Z. is a freelance illustrator and portrait artist in her late 20s, with a passion for Martial Arts and Chinese culture, and is the creator of Lost Panda, a blog to China and Art. Together with her husband, a Chinese national, she writes about daily life in rural China, focusing on cultural and social differences and the joys (and sometimes difficulties) as an intercultural couple. Apart from China related topics, she publishes her artwork, photography, art material reviews and tutorials to help more people discover their creative side. She is fluent in German, English and Mandarin Chinese.

13 thoughts on “The Day I changed my Chinese Parents-in-law

  1. my mother in law hated animals since in her mind it was fur and poop that consumes a lot of money, but since I convinced my husband having a kitty is a great idea she believes it’s his choice and the perfect boy cannot make a bad decisions, now she calls Biscuit ‘Giant Miu’ (when she was smaller she was small miu and later big miu, now she’s giant ;) ). I wish the change came more naturally rather than from deep love and belief her son is perfect, but I won’t complain :) love reading your posts!

    • Well, I guess change is better than no change at all. At least your mother-in-law accepts your little fur ball. Did I mention I love cats as well :D

  2. I think it’s great that you’ve had a positive influence on your parents-in-law, but I would be careful about ascribing behaviours and attitudes to people as though they were an inherent part of the people’s culture. Bad pet care, for example, is not an inherent part of the Chinese culture any more than good pet care is of the “Western” culture. There was a time when bad treatment of cats and dogs was common in Western countries too.

    • I know what you mean. And I fully understand. I am not forcing anything on anyone. But exactly the fact that china is open to new ideas now, the living standard is rising and people’s thinking is changing is the main reason for the change. I didn’t need to do much. Just be here. However, if my parents in law would still be living in extremely poor conditions they couldn’t care less about feeding a fur ball. This has nothing to do with culture and I never said it has.

      It’s just a natural process. A change that happened all around the world no matter of the culture or history or language.

  3. When my late husband moved to my small town in the United States in the 1960s, he was the only Asian in town. In those days, Americans knew next to nothing about real Chinese food. They had only heard of chop suey and chow mein. But my husband cooked dinners and banquets for our friends and for my parents, and before long they learned to love and appreciate Chinese food.

    When he was growing up, my husband’s father never worked in the garden; his family always hired a gardener instead. In the United States, he saw people taking care of their own gardens. Years later, when we moved to the South Pacific, my husband planted a huge vegetable garden that he worked in after office hours and on weekends. We all change to one degree or another when we are exposed to different ways of doing things.

    • Very well said. I think that is the beauty of globalization and people and cultures getting mixed and closer together. It is just amazing how much we can learn from each other. Everyday is a beautiful day like this

  4. It is always nice to see some positive changes in people around you. My mother in law also changed slightly from keeping her dogs for several week in a cage until taking them for a five minute walk to taking them out at least 1-2 a week. Not so much improvement for the dogs but I have hopes of it improving more :)

  5. What a sweet entry, Anna! I’m so glad you were able to open your family up to a new perspective on dogs. It reminds me a lot of how things have changed in my in-laws’ home. They got their newest dog (who we named Snoopy) just when John and I arrived, and in many ways John and I helped raise him. I think it was a surprise for my in-laws to see how a dog can be so affectionate, loving and a joy to be around. I feel like everyone in that home loves that dog even if they don’t show it — even more than they ever loved the dogs in the past. And when John and I rescued Snoopy (who was trapped in a ravine) and brought him home, everyone felt so relieved to have the dog back.

    As an aside, I’ve also seen far more pampered pets in the countryside than I expected…mainly dogs. Things are changing in dog ownership in China and the dogs will definitely benefit in the end!

  6. I have the feeling that how people treat dogs also depends on where in China you are. When I traveled to the Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces, there were quite a few dogs who were all really clean and well fed, but who at the same time were allowed to run around freely outside.

    • I guess you are right. Like in bigger cities you won’t find many stray dogs.
      Though even though there are a lot of stray dogs here in the village, the majority belong to a household. And most of the dogs are fed well. You can see if the owner paid money for their dog because then they don’t let them roam free but put them on a leash in their own courtyard because there are a lot of people stealing dogs and selling them.

      Our family dog stays at home and is extremely well fed… A bit too well fed haha it’s funny because the only way my in-laws know how to show love and care is by feeding you. They do the same to me and now they are also over feeding the little pup.

    • I still see a few very skinny dogs in china but things in general are changing.

      Here as well some people pay a lot of money for special breeds. But most people don’t know how to treat a dog like a dog; not change him into a doll but also not let him starve or beat them when they do something wrong. Though I guess this problem might exist in many countries to some degree.

      Our family dog is getting a bath every day now! I shocked! In a good way haha it seems the little fellow has totally one my in-laws heart :)

  7. Pingback: Depth Perception | Darwin Dogs

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