Black Abroad: The Roses
By Rachel Hill
Q: Hi there! Tell the world a little bit about “The Roses”!
We are LaToya and Tiffany, a black lesbian couple that have been married for two years. We have an insatiable thirst for wanderlust and enjoy living the expatriate life. For the past three years, we’ve called Shanghai, China home.
Q:Where did The Roses meet?
Tiffany and I were both living in South Korea one year before officially meeting. She organized a lesbian meet-up group with the goal of connecting lesbians in the Seoul area. Fellow lesbians met up, at brunch, for drinks and gay friendly conversation. We met at this brunch and became instant friends. Had anyone told us on that chilly Saturday in February that four and half years later we would be married to each other, living in China ,trying to have a baby we would’ve laughed in their face. But that’s life, always giving you the unexpected just when you need it.
Q: Speaking of living in Shanghai, how is life there, as a young, Black, married, Lesbian couple?
Living in such a homogenous country, we are the ULTIMATE other. Black. Lesbian. Women. Living in China. Working at an International French School. We tick all of the above on a minority survey. Living in Asia, in general, people are curious about our melanin rich skin and kinky hair texture. Having locs heightens their curiosity often with puzzled looks and round table discussions.
Although our marriage is not recognized by the Chinese government, working for the French government, we receive full marital benefits. A “closet” doesn’t exist for us. We are very out and open about the life we share together.
Q: What are some of the most interesting things you experience culturally living in Shanghai?
Contrary to popular belief, Shanghai isn’t a true depiction of Chinese culture. With 24 million people living in the city, it’s a metropolitan hub with booming night life. The difference between Shanghai and New York, however is eventually, Shanghainese people do go to sleep.
It is a true East meets West paradox. Within ten steps, you can buy 6RMB ($1) noodles from a street vendor before test driving an Aston Martin.
Q: What have the major differences between living in Seoul and Shanghai, China?
Prior to living in an Asian country, I thought Japan, China, and South Korea were synonymous with noodles, knock off luxury items, and Kong Fu. I was certainly wrong! Seoul is truly the city that never sleeps. From Noraebang (karaoke), movie theaters, and night clubs to Korean BBQ, cafes, and tempting street food vendors, there is always something to indulge the night owls. Clothing and cosmetic shops are plentiful. The people are very fashionable, kind mannered, and not as aggressive. My wife and I like to describe Seoul as the transient city for expats. Every foreigner you meet is either an English teacher (from an English speaking country) or works for the military. In a nutshell, you work, party hard, save a little, and then you leave.
On the contrary Shanghai is for the more focused expats. People move to Shanghai to advance their careers. Here, you’ll find foreigners from a plethora of countries across the globe. When we go out with friends, we look like attendees at a benefit dinner for United Nations. I love it! This is also great when it’s time to travel.
Q: This is a common question I am sure – “How do you all make a living in China?”
My wife and I work for the French International School, Lycée Francais de Shanghai, as teachers. Not to brag, (but kind of) the benefits are amazing. The best being our vacation time. Because the company observes both Chinese and French holidays, every five to six weeks, we have vacation. It’s perfect for our travel addiction.
Q: In your opinions, do you think Shanghai is a great place for a young, Black professional to live, grow, and thrive professionally, financially, socially?
- Professionally: It truly depends on the occupational field and company you work for. Benefits and privileges vary, based on origin country of the company. For Educators in the International section, it’s a fantastic place to live and work. As well as those in Fashion, Marketing, Business or Engineering. We must you warn you, the Chinese work week is much longer and grueling than our 40 hour work week in America. However on the flipside of that coin there are numerous opportunities once in China as an ex-patriate to open businesses and make meaningful business connections. If are hard working, adaptable and hungry for the hustle Shanghai could a great place for you.
- Financially: Absolutely. Depending on your line of work you can make a good living in Shanghai. The cost of living is less than in the states. You earn enough to pay rent/bills/student loans and still have money to shop and travel. Who doesn’t love that?
- Socially: Shanghai has a booming nightlife. From 5 star dining, live shows, fantastic cocktail hours, and bar hopping to jam packed clubs, Shanghai’s social scene is parallel to that of New York City. It’s often dubbed as the an affordable New York night life. Bottle service? Yes please!
Q: How would you honestly say the perception of Brown people in Shanghai is compared to that of being back home in the States?
Most Chinese people we meet, think we’re from Africa. While this is not completely false, I do correct them and let them know we’re Americans. As I said before, they are fascinated with our skin and hair. Most days, I ignore the stares and whispers. Some days, I get annoyed and respond with, “Hello! Yes, may I help you” Tiffany’s favorite response is, “What, you see something you like?” We both chuckle and go on about our day.
Q: How has living overseas shaped your views and perception of the world?
I’d like to answer this question with a quote, “So much of what you are is where you’ve been.” Through travel, we have been exposed to different cultures, food, family values, tradition, music etc…it has truly broaden our world. We no longer see the “American Dream” fitting for us. Giving each other the gift of travel is our American dream.
Q: Okay, craziest story since you all have been out there?
Where do we begin? Part of living overseas is embracing a new culture. However, that doesn’t mean that you won’t be completely culture shocked from time to time. One in particular stands out. Let us preface this story by noting that we don’t eat Chinese food, our friends often ask us “Are you serious that you don’t eat Chinese food? It’s so delicious! There’s so many dishes to try !” For those of you Americans, let us tell you there is no beef and broccoli, shrimp fried rice, shrimp Ho fun, spareribs , crab rangoons or egg drop soup in a white box cartons. Traditional Chinese food is nothing like the sometimes strange, yet amazingly delicious version of Chinese cuisine that we have in United States. We are by no means picky eaters. Having lived in Asia for many years has opened us up to a number of strange delicacies which we wholeheartedly indulge.
However in China there are many things that for lack of better words, we just don’t fuck with. In our first weeks in China, still wet behind the ears trying to figure out where we fit. We found a nearby restaurant which always smelled amazing. Inside there were lots of people, had delicious looking dishes on the table, so we figured we give it a try. We went up to the counter to look at the menu which was all in Mandarin. I proceeded to take out a notepad and pen and draw pictures of animals one would probably eat. A pig, a cow, a horse, a fish, a chicken. We then proceeded to point to dishes and then point to the pictures on my notepad to find out what meat was in which dish.
We each picked one we liked that looked delicious then pointed to the chicken the woman nodded I gave her a thumbs up and we thought all was well. This bubbling bowl of awesome deliciousness arrived at our table . I rubbed my hands together and picked up my chopsticks ready to dig in. The first bite was pretty good it was it turned out to be some spicy chicken stew. As Toya took the first bite of her order she frowned and spit out a weird gelatinous ball. I laughed and dug my chopstick back into my bowl for a second helping, this time not paying attention still conversing with Toya, I put the chopstick to my mouth and as I did a hook cut my lip I looked down to see a chicken foot and the nail hanging from my lip I was utterly disgusted and totally done. I made a disappointed face!
Dug even deeper into my pot to see that 90% of the meat in my bowl was chicken feet I put down my chopsticks shook my head and said let’s go I think we have Ramen in the room! Since then we’ve had multiple occasions to try Chinese food with similar food fails. The chicken foot debacle has marred us forever. Needless to say we won’t be trying any new Chinese dishes until further notice. With that said we do partake in the staples fried rice, sautéed vegetables, noodles, dumplings, rice porridge, green tea and hot soy milk. So, if you’re going to a traditional Chinese feast, you can count the Roses…Out!
Q: To be transparent, what is one of the worst or most challenging experiences you have had in Asia?
The most challenging experiences have been truly and wholeheartedly accepting their culture. Common practices we are accustomed to in America are not norms here. For example, waiting in line, not staring, giving up your seat for an elderly person or a pregnant woman, and pedestrians having the right of way, are all normal “common sense” social rules. This is not the case in Shanghai. We must constantly remind ourselves that this is not America and they are not being rude.
Q: What has you inspired you the most about living in Shanghai?
Although we are teachers professionally, we still feel like teachers after hours. There are moments when curious soles are respectful enough to ask about your hair. This opens the floor to engage in mutual dialogue. Some will politely ask for your permission to take a picture of you or with you. When you oblige, they are the happiest! Other times, our local fruit vendor will give us the biggest and the best dragon fruit because we are loyal customers. All of these simple yet beautiful interactions let us know that we are succeeding here. Living and thriving in a country completely different from America.
Q: What has been the greatest lesson you both have learned living overseas?
Once you step foot outside of America, you realize that life is truly an adventure. To date, it has been the best decision we’ve made. Our lives are richer, our experiences are vast, and our adventures are never ending!
Q: Where to next for The Roses? Do you all plan on moving back to The States?
As of now, we plan to live in China for a few more years. We have no plans to repatriate. We see ourselves settling in sunny South America or growing roots on the coast of Spain with our future baby Roses.
Q: And the greatest piece of advice for people who would like to live overseas at a point?
Do it! Research your country of intent, book a ticket, and go! Succeed or fail, it will teach you 1,000,001 unexpected lessons to carry you through a lifetime.
This post originally appeared on Rachel Travels.