In Gainesville, Chinese Families Find Room For Family, Tastes Of Home

Every Tuesday afternoon, Qingming Huang (right) and Tao Lin would bring their daughter to the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art to play with her. “It is a quiet place to stay with our daughter, and it would be easy for us to take care of her here,” Lin said. (Zhiming Zhang/WUFT News)

By Zhiming Zhang

Living on F-1 and F-2 Visas

Qingming Huang received his admission letter from the University of Florida an hour after his daughter was born.

He then took his wife, Tao Lin, and their month-old daughter to the U.S.

Besides the culture shock of trying to fit into American culture, they also needed to figure out how to take care of their daughter while Huang attends school.

“If I do not go out and see the world, I am afraid that I will never have the chance to study abroad,” Huang, 31, said in Chinese on why he came to UF to get his Ph.D. in comparative politics.

Huang is one of 2,198 Chinese international students at UF — about one-third of the overall 6,751 international students at the university, according to the UF International Center,

“Overall, the majority of international students in the U.S. are from China,” Susanne Hill, executive director of the UFIC, wrote in an email. “This is not just true for UF, but for the entire United States.”

The reasons for Chinese students choosing to study in the U.S. and not their home country, according to BBC News, include the expansion of China’s middle class and parents wanting a better education for their children.  Although attending college in the U.S. is more expensive, Chinese parents, who were only allowed to give birth to one child under the country’s former one-child policy, are willing to pay the cost.

Huang and his wife arrived in Gainesville from China on August 15, 2015. He is on an F-1 student visa, which allows people to enter the U.S. as a full-time student at different academic institutions or in language-training programs, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Because Lin, 28, is on an F-2 visa, her main job is to take care of her daughter. According to VisaPro.com, a law firm that specializes in immigration services, F-2 dependents are not eligible for any employment and may only attend primary and secondary schools.

When Huang finishes his classes for the day, the first thing he does is go home to take care of his daughter.

“I am glad that whenever I need him, he will always be with me,” Lin said of her husband.

The parents take turns watching their daughter. Huang said the worst time was when she was between 5 and 8 moths old because she would wake up every 30 minutes.

Huang remembered one day last November specifically. He was enrolled in a class that ended about 9:30 p.m., and after coming back home, his daughter would not go to sleep. He had a paper due the next morning and did not finish the assignment until 4:30 a.m.

“Did you hear dad is speaking ill of you?” Lin asked her daughter in Chinese as Huang recalled the all-nighter.

“I was just telling the truth,” Huang laughed.

The situation improved at the end of the fall 2015 semester when their daughter learned how to crawl. Before, Huang or Lin had to hold her all the time.

Huang’s time at UF isn’t his first time exploring politics. After graduating from China’s Xiamen University in 2007, he worked as a journalist for eight years in Hangzhou, China.

Qingming Huang held his five-month-old daughter while reading a book at the same time. He said it would take him two to three hours to watch a 40-minute-long show because he needed to take care of his daughter while watching the show. (Courtesy of Tao Lin)
Qingming Huang holds his 5-month-old daughter while studying. When she was younger, he said it would take him two to three hours to watch a 40-minute-long TV show because he needed to tend to her needs. (Courtesy of Tao Lin)

He began preparing to come to the U.S. in 2013 because he realized his interest is politics, especially after interviewing political experts as a journalist.

After researching American political studies, he realized attending a Ph.D. program in the subject would help him become more knowledgeable.

However, Huang was not confident in his English and was unsure about his future in the U.S. His family members also did not understand when they heard about his decision. Even he had hesitations.

“To me, moving to a new place to live means I have to restart everything,” he said, noting that he came to UF without any scholarships or other forms of financial support.

But once he arrived, he said he started to appreciate the teaching style in the U.S., especially the seminar-style interaction with classmates.

But Huang wasn’t comfortable talking at first, and he didn’t dare speaking during the first class. After a couple of classes, though, he would go back home and tell Lin that he was beginning to speak up more. Now, he is confident speaking in front of his classmates.

In fact, Huang said he has become more confident than ever before because he’s doing things that he’d never dream of, such as communicating with people from all over the world and taking care of a child while also focusing on his studies.

“I feel like I am living back in my old college days, when I was very happy and energetic,” he said, adding that now that he’s settled in, he hopes to find a part-time job and plans to apply for scholarships.

Lin has been expanding her mind, too. Since October, she has been going to the International Learning Center two mornings a week to learn English.

“I can tell that my English is improving every day,” she said.

She said she knows some people who study abroad miss home, but she hasn’t minded.

“My husband and I are always together,” she said, “so I do not have to miss home because my family is always with me.”

Lin said her husband’s plans after graduation will determine whether to stay in the U.S. or go to another country.

She said she hopes to be able to fluently speak English on the phone by next year so her husband would have more time for his own work.

Huang said words can’t express how thankful he is about his wife coming to the U.S. with him.

“I hope I can help my wife take care of our daughter as much as I can,” he said, “so she can have more time for her own life.”

Bringing tastes of China to Gainesville

If you go to one Chinese restaurant in Gainesville, you’ll have some unique options — like fried eggplant turnover and Chinese eggplant, potato and bell pepper — but then there’s also karaoke.

“Cooking and singing are two of my favorite things,” Hong Kong Deli owner Zhuo Jia said in Chinese, “and I would like to implement these two things in my restaurant.”

Jia, 35, said her restaurant does not cook the American-Chinese dishes common among such restaurants in the U.S. for a reason: She hopes that when her customers have the chance to go to China, they will realize the dishes are the same as hers.

Some of the customers who had already been to China told her they were surprised because some of her dishes are better than the ones in China.

“I know they may just sweet talking,” she said, “but I was very happy when they told me this.”

The restaurant at 1236 NW 21st Ave. gets its name from Jia’s former business partner, a cook who specializes in Hong Kong-style barbecue.

Jia’s recipes are influenced by the food cultures of both northern and southern China: The north brings in dishes like sour mustard rib noodle soup and country eggplant, and the south spicy dishes like Sichuan boiled pork and Sichuan boiled fish.

But she has made some adjustments to American culture: For example, Americans eat appetizers more often than Chinese people, so she serves handmade dim sum, bite-size portions sometimes served in steamer baskets, all day.

Another difference: rush hour. Most Chinese people eat dinner at the restaurant about 6 p.m., while Americans come for to-go dishes around 7:30. This makes for an elongated dinner rush, which generally goes from 5:30 to 9.

Originally from Changchun, a city in northeastern China, Jia used to work as a middle school music teacher.

She arrived in Gainesville in 2007 and attended the language-learning program at Santa Fe College. Then, in 2009, she began attending a nursing program at Santa Fe.

But she dropped out of school after realizing she could open Hong Kong Deli with her business partner in 2011. The restaurant first welcomed customers on Feb. 22, 2012, after eight months of preparation.

Jia serves as the main cook, and besides two cashiers, the only other employees are her parents: Her father helps cook the barbecue, while her mother prepares the basic ingredients and dim sum.

Jia’s father, Qingzhou Jia, 66, said the most popular dishes for American people are roasted duck on rice, crispy pork on rice, and beef chow fun.

He said Americans care about texture and flavor the most. They like tender dishes, he added, and that is why the restaurant uses hand-cut, fresh noodles for all the noodle dishes.

“The most important thing for us is to make sure that our customers are satisfied with our dishes and services,” he said.

Jia said her restaurant strives to make high-quality food that has less oil, sugar, salt and food coloring. The dishes do not have monosodium glutamate, commonly known as MSG, which is often used in Asian cuisine.

She said that even though hers is a small restaurant, she has to take care of a great many things besides cooking, including keeping the restaurant clean and preparing the food.

Zhuo Jia selects songs using the Karaoke machine in her restaurant. “Cooking and singing are two of my favorite things, and I would like to implement these two things in my restaurant,” Jia said. (Photo by Zhiming Zhang/WUFT News)
Jia selects songs using the karaoke machine she installed in the deli in March. “Cooking and singing are two of my favorite things,” she said in Chinese, “and I would like to implement these two things in my restaurant.” (Zhiming Zhang/WUFT News)

“There is an old Chinese saying that goes, ‘One minute on the stage takes 10 years of practice off the stage,’ and I think that is how my restaurant runs,” she said.

As for the karaoke room, Jia said it was installed in March and is free for customers to use until May, when they’ll have to begin paying.

She said she installed the machine because she wants customers to have fun while eating. There’s also the fact that she likes singing in her free time.

Jia said that when she first came to the U.S., problems became difficult to solve, and she would reminisce about going back to China. But after being here for almost 10 years, she has learned to put every effort into solving the problems instead of running away from them.

As a single mother, she said her son is the biggest motivation and that he helps her get through all the hardships.

“I hope that I can offer him a bright future with my hard work.”

About Zhiming Zhang

Zhiming is a reporter for WUFT News who may be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news @wuft.org

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