Terry Boyd-Zhang, 39, born in Ontario, Canada
Nathan “Xiangzi” Zhang, 39, born in Liaoning Province, China
Saira Zhang, 5, born in Toronto, Canada
Caleb Zhang, 8, born in Edmonton, Canada
Terry: I’m from southwestern Ontario. You can say “Toronto” if you want, but I’m not really from there. I came to China in 1993 with my university. I studied Western history and we came to take a look at Eastern history. I really liked it here so [after]graduating, I applied through the Chinese Embassy in Canada and got a teaching position in China. Back then the Chinese embassy would send teachers to backwater China, so I ended up in the northeast. The way we met is a very simple story: He owned a restaurant and I like to eat. He told me, “You have to pay the bill or marry me” so he became my “souvenir.” This was in Jinzhou in 1995.
Nathan: She was the only suitable person I could marry!
Terry: After we got married, we moved to Shanghai. We lived there for three years and then the Chinese embassy bombing [in Serbia]happened [in 1999]. Things were a bit nervous, and we had already decided to go back to Canada anyway. The kids were both born there. I had been in China for four years [without leaving]and wanted to go back to Canada. So we did and it was fine, but Nathan didn’t like his job in Canada very much.
Nathan: I did the 9-to-5 corporate job in Canada for six and a half years. I received a six-year anniversary pin from my company and I took a look at it and thought to myself, “No. I want to leave.” It was a great job with good benefits and pay, but it was not fulfilling. The word ‘fulfilling’ didn’t even exist in my mind.
Terry: I applied for a scholarship [at a university in Beijing]that I didn’t think I would get, but that’s what brought us back here. I’m now studying a modern Chinese author who used to live here in Beijing. For me, if I hadn’t taken this opportunity, it would have been like closing a door. You get to the point where you say to yourself, “This is it,” and you have to keep taking opportunities – or you’re done.
When we came back to China [three years ago]the kids could not speak Chinese at all. It was really hard at first. Caleb wanted to talk a lot, so within six months he was fluent. Saira was already able to speak English, but her Chinese language learning was a little slower because her classmates were hardly speaking at all. This year, her Chinese has [really improved]. They can both speak English but it’s lagging a bit … now, they speak to each other in Chinese. They are both at a local school and like studying, but people say that by Grade 3 or 4 [in China]there gets to be more and more homework. So far it’s okay. International school is not an option anyway – we just can’t afford it.
I think it’s always been our idea to go back to Canada, but recently we’ve been thinking it’s pretty good here and we don’t have much back in Canada. It’s still pretty difficult to stay here but the residency policies are loosening up. It would be nice to be able to go back and forth.
Nathan: The reason we came back to China was because we still wanted to find what we really want to do. Now I head an organization called brandnü, which is mainly focused on building bridges between grassroots Chinese NGOs, urban and rural design talents, artists, and Chinese celebrities – pretty much building bridges for rural women and migrant women. I’ve been working with migrant women in the suburbs of Beijing for a few months already to build a sewing cooperative. My project is called Upcycle Fashion. People and clothing manufacturers donate clothes and material and the migrant worker women use the fabric to design “new” clothes. I have connected with the CSR (corporate social responsibility) divisions of some big companies, and we’re at the beginning stages, in a testing period. We did a shawl made from secondhand clothes, which has been a really big success. We made about 40 pieces and sold pretty much all of them. We cut up the second-hand clothes and [surplus fabric]and work with designers to make the pieces; it’s like a quilt. This is my main project now. I also work with different social enterprises and other local charities in China and sell their handicrafts in my shop in Wudaoying Hutong, near the Lama Temple.
Terry: I support Nathan from the wings. Now he’s got employees, which is very exciting. Before he had to do the shop, the organization, and make the contacts himself – and I’ve been the financial backer. I told him a couple of months ago, “Now we’re even – I’ve paid my dues!”
Nathan: [Laughs] So, I owe her now. I cook for her every day!