Rebirth and change come every spring, and this year beijingkids is blooming with new staff. We’ve said "see you around" to former Managing Editor, Aisling O’Brien, School Editor, Yvette Ferrari, and Shunyi Correspondent, Sally Wilson. Over the next week, we’ll be spotlighting different beijingkids staff members; today, meet our new School Editor, Jessica Suotmaa.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Once I got over all the ideas my mom had put in head, such as becoming a lawyer (she watched too much Law & Order), I actually wanted to be a freelance journalist and writer. I have never liked rules or authority, so being able to set my own hours and decide who I’d work for and what I’d work on was my dream. Plus, I like lazing around at home and working in bed.
Do you have any siblings? If so, tell us their name(s) and a fun fact about them.
I do, my sister is 8.5 years younger than me. Although she’s now an adult in college, she still doesn’t know how to burp!
Who was your childhood hero?
Sailor Moon, or maybe Sailor Mars, because she’s strong-willed and seldom needs rescuing.
What was your favorite childhood food? Has it changed as an adult?
I had a number of favorites as a child, but McDonalds had to have topped the list. It sounds sad, but keep in mind that I traveled often (visited Taiwan for 2-3 months every year in addition to all the moving), so I would often wake up and just find myself in a strange place. Sure, I wanted to eat rice with soy sauce, or mian jing & gua gua (wheat gluten and pickled cucumbers, you can pick up the Taiwan imports from BLT supermarket here in Beijing), or dry noodles that you could only buy from this one stall, in the morning (before 10am) from the market near where my grandparents lived in Taipei, but McDonalds was everywhere I went and the most reliable source of food when everything else was strange and foreign.
Despite how unhealthy it is, McDonalds still has a special place in my heart. When we’re on road trips, or when I travel to other (Chinese) cities for work, I always feel at ease if I spot a McDonalds. Of course, it is no longer my favorite food—I love cream potatoes paired with a simple “leaf” steak (thin, hammered steak) with herb butter, and I never fail to order it when I visit family.
List up to three of your favorite childhood books:
• Nancy Drew, because her life was exciting.
• Little Women, and sequels, because it portrayed Jo as a writer.
• Ratsutyttö (roughly translates as “horse girl”), because horse-back riding was popular among my friends, but I was too scared of horses to take up the hobby myself, so I read the trilogy to better relate to them.
Tell us an embarrassing or little-known childhood anecdote about yourself.
I was the most well-behaved, quiet, and doll-like little girl you could imagine—raised to behave exactly the way a traditional Chinese mother would want. I was revered by random diners at restaurants, where even venue managers would give me special treats to reward my stellar behavior.
I never wandered, never spoke, and if someone tried to order me something extra, give me a hong bao, or buy me a gift, I would always reject it and want nothing. If you gave me drawing materials, I could draw for two to three hours while adults conversed. If you put me in front of a computer with a puzzle or a game of Tetris, you essentially had my babysitting taken care of for the next four hours.
However, as I grew older, I realized that I wasn’t silent because I had nothing to say; I was silent because I had trouble gauging how to behave in each cultural situation. When I finally reached an age when silence was no longer golden, I began to revolt because I didn’t know how to behave in each culture, and even if I knew what was expected of me, I just couldn’t internalize that culture as my own. To this day, my mother believes my rebellious streak began when my sister was born, but really, it began when I realized I didn’t fit into either of my parents’ cultures.
Tell us about your parents’ quirks and how they’ve shaped you.
My parents were in an inter-racial, multi-cultural relationship, which started in a foreign culture (the third culture), so our home was quite divided from the beginning. During holidays, such as summers at our summerhouse or Christmases at my grandparents, we might play board games or outdoor games (croquet, anyone?) together, but most of the time, we had separate hobbies and activities. My dad had his table tennis and freelance writing, my mom had her volunteer organizations, and of course my schedule had to be filled up accordingly.
My mom had signed me up for ballet, piano classes, girl scouts, pípa lessons, and various short-term art workshops (felting, puppet making, Chinese painting, candle making, clay making…). In addition, she even had me tag along to all her charity events, international seminars, and women’s rights group meetings—all because she felt that I shouldn’t stay home alone, (my dad was too busy with work and his own activities) and "waste time". As a result, I have learned to love staying home alone and just doing nothing. I like to keep my schedule as empty as possible, and I consciously avoid committing myself to weekly classes, workshops, and meet ups. Most of the time, I have to schedule a friend to meet me at an event for extra motivation, or else I might just end up loafing around at home. Luckily, my husband and I are on the same page, and we enjoy being anti-social together.
How many children would you like to have?
Well, I have one son, and another on the way (gender still unknown), so I think I’m good. My husband seems to believe we’re still negotiating, though, but it definitely depends on how our family dynamic changes with the addition of a second child.
Jessica Suotmaa has been beijingkids’ School Editor since March 2016. Born in San Diego, California, and raised in Los Angeles, Turku (Finland), Taipei (Taiwan), and London, she moved to Beijing in 2012 with her husband and Fubu the bluenose Pitbull. Prior, they lived in Los Angeles. Jessica enjoys prose writing, Russian literature, Japanese manga, fengshui, and zen living. In her free time, she can be found exploring the hutongs and trying unknown hole-in-the-wall restaurants.
Photo: Jessica Suotmaa