Friday, June 15, 2018


By always thinking of new ways to promote her wines, Natalie Waters loves to create events for the Suzhou expat community and bring people together.


When I met Natalie at a cafe in Suzhou Center, I could tell she is a passionate woman from the way she greeted me. She looked at me with the bright eyes of people who wake up in the morning knowing they’ll do what they like to do. Yet, her story starts with a misfortune.

“My first passion in life was dance.” She told me “After university, I performed in various stage shows, musicals, and movies, but it all came to a sudden end when I suffered a painful spine injury. Doctors warned me not to dance anymore. It felt like my whole life had ended, I was devastated.”

Natalie had to find a new path. She explored different opportunities until she met a fellow actor who was a wine broker.

“As I love wine, I thought that could be something I would enjoy doing too. And I was right! I traveled a lot with the job, selling to clients in Australia, Hong Kong, and Singapore.”

It was her new job that led her to fall in love with her husband. 

“Brett was doing the marketing for Australia’s biggest wine icon, Penfolds. He tried to get my opinion on his companies designs for in-store displays, and I tried to sell him a wine portfolio. I succeeded. Within two years of us meeting each other, we were married, had our first son, and Brett set up his factory supply chain in China.”

Back then, her husband had to travel a lot back and forth to China. Natalie was alone, as her family was living in another part of Australia. When their son was nine months old, they decided they would all move to Shanghai.

“We thought moving would be the better option for our family. We came to stay 6-12 months, and ended up staying 12 years so far!”

During the first two years in Shanghai, Natalie focused on her family. She had her second baby and happily enjoyed the opportunity to take care of her children as a full-time mother. 

“I did some casual work as a choreographer on a fil and as a fit model but didn’t actively look for a job. It was nice being a 100% mom."

When her children started school, however, she felt it was time for her to put herself on the line again. 

“China gave me the freedom to discover my passions more than home. Australia’s job market is saturated and if you want to be a dance teacher or a wine educator you’ll find fierce competition. In China this was different, and I had a lot more opportunities. When we moved to Suzhou I started to teach dance at SSIS school and the chance to work in the field of wines came very soon after my kids started school.

When they lived in Shanghai, Natalie and her husband were members of Wine Club 101 and got along well with the owner, Joe. 

“My passion was for Australian wine but Joe opened my eyes to a  hugely diverse range of International wine varieties I had never heard of before, let alone had the opportunity to taste.  Around the same time we moved to Suzhou, so did Joe and Wine Club 101. Very soon after both my kids started school, he offered me a job with him, to sell wine.”

Natalie was eager to start, but that kind of a job required spending evenings organizing dinners and events. She didn’t want to leave her children alone at night, so she came up with a brilliant idea: the wine lunches.

“It wasn’t so different from what I was already doing. I would often share the wine I bought from Joe with my friends when we got together for play dates. My friends enjoyed what I was introducing them to and asked me to buy for them, so in a way, I was already working for Joe without knowing it.”
Joe said it would never work. Instead, ten years later she is still organizing wine lunches and they have always been a great success. 


“Wine lunches became an opportunity for mothers to put some makeup on, dress up, feel elegant and enjoy their time together, tasting samples from the vast portfolio of international boutique wines selected by me”.

Natalie got off to a good start. But life is unpredictable, and another tragedy was around the corner. Joe suddenly died, leaving a wife and a son - not to mention all the family savings invested in container’s full of wines in Shanghai.

“When Joe passed away, I felt a lot of pressure on me. Joe’s wife wasn’t as passionate as him about the business, and she didn’t know which way to turn. I helped her sell all of the wine. Once we had sold all of it, I suggested we work with other importers, so we could ease the cashflow burden, and also increase the selection to include wines from many other countries. Our client base was so diverse, it made sense for our portfolio to reflect this. Our grief after Joe’s sad passing has now turned to a feeling of pride, that we have kept his legacy of selling boutique wines here in China at a high standard.” 

Natalie made the business flourish and became the General Manager of the company, while Joe’s widow, Cecilia, continued to support the business in the back office.

“Over the years, I came with more fun ways to promote our wines as well as add more fun community experiences for my fellow expats, such as the Suzhou White Party, and the annual music festival, Suzhou On That Beat. I like the way wine brings people together. I love my job, meeting people and networking. I like to have fun organizing events and always doing new things. I want to enjoy my time here!”


Natalie’s story is indeed a story of passion and success. I asked her what suggestions she has for other expat women in China.

“I was lucky because I was a dancer and a wine educator, and this you can easily take with you if you move. But other jobs are not so adaptable, so I’ve seen a lot of talented women, who had high-level professional careers at home, feeling useless here, with nothing to give, empty.

My suggestion is to get involved, embrace the culture, engage with people. Do something you wouldn’t usually do, something unique. This is a place that can make or break you. Life in China always challenges me, and it’s like an emotional rollercoaster. You are not going to be happy all the time. You have to find your own happiness here. Always try to find the positive in what you meet! 

As for me, I am an eternal optimist who always sees the glass as half full. I have big dreams and love to help champion other people’s ideas.

You can see all the events and contact Natalie by  joining the WeChat group ID: SZWineClub101  or visit their Wine Club 101 Facebook page (

Thursday, April 12, 2018


Lydia Nordlien left her home five years ago and moved to China with an ambitious goal: to become a Chinese teacher. Her determination led her to unbelievable results.

When Lydia moved from Norway to Suzhou with her family - husband and two daughters - like many others expat wives, she quit her job. She was a Secondary School teacher in Mathematics and loved her students and teaching.

“When I was a child in Finland, I was bored at school, and slept a lot in class or skipped them. Eventually, after moving to Norway age 18, I figured I wanted to be a teacher to teach less boringly.”

Her husband came home from work one day, and she saw that light in his eyes. He had been offered a position in China he really wanted. 

“I knew that whatever he would say, I would agree to. At that time I was in trouble with my new principal, so my husband didn't even get to finish what he was saying before I told him I'm ready.”

The year before moving, she started studying Chinese at an evening school. She soon found out hardly any Chinese teachers in Norway spoke much English or Norwegian. The Chinese lady, a former Secondary Teacher from Shanghai, could only show them pictures and play children's songs for them. Lydia quit and found no better options either.

“After preparing all practical issues and our children for the move, I realized I hadn't made a plan for what I would do in China. The solution came seconds later – I would study Chinese and become a Chinese teacher.”

Once arrived in China, Lydia signed up at the local university. She studied there for three years and spent up to 70 hours a week on the studies. 

“The clash between Chinese education methods and everything I knew about teaching was total. I was in agony, angry, depressed and eventually desperate because the teachers didn`t teach, but mostly told us what to memorize. I had to start teaching myself and invent ways of understanding. I tailored study methods to motivate myself. I also managed to track down an excellent private teacher who could keep up with my intensive studies. She was my light in the dark, and became one of my best friends later.”

After finishing her studies, which included studying up to HSK 6 and HSKK Advanced (highest level of Chinese proficiency exams), she tried to find work, but no one would even consider a foreigner teaching Chinese. She didn’t give up and, and building on the methods she used for her own studies, she put together a system for learning Hanzi, Chinese characters.

“Over the years countless parents and students had complained how hard it is to learn the Chinese characters by only memorizing. I went straight to one of the most influential women in our community and showed her how to learn and remember easier. She was convinced and helped me offer lessons for groups of parents. I also wrote a self-ironical book in Norwegian about my crash landing in the Chinese education system. Eventually, I offered lessons to university students and others, and gained attention.”

However, the path was not easy. Lydia contacted some Chinese Language schools, but after examining all her materials they rejected her. She was also not allowed to volunteer or assist in Chinese classes at an International school, even though she was fully qualified to work as a Substitute teacher at the same school. Lydia nearly lost her faith in the project. She fell back on giving English lessons but wasn’t satisfied.

“One day a friend of mine asked me: Is teaching English what you really want to do? The answer was no. So she pushed me to pursue my dream, and I started up again. I was introduced to a bar where I taught groups and my “Hack Hanzi with Lydia” got a lot of people interested. At this point, the President of the Suzhou branch of the governments International Chinese Language Teachers Association contacted me. She asked me to teach some of the members she was in charge of. I taught Chinese Chinese teachers in Chinese how to teach Chinese characters. That was a «pinch my arm» - moment. What`s more, they liked the class so much I was asked for more.”


She didn’t give up on the first “no,” she worked until she reached a “yes”! This is why she succeeded.

“As to why I did all this might be because I am a nerd, through and through, and just have to challenge myself. I have this life, and I want to look back and know I've lived it, carved out my space and made a difference. The more I learn, the more there is to learn. I'm never better than my next class.”

If you want to attend her classes, just write her on WeChat! Lydia is also InterNations Suzhou Ambassador, and you can get in touch with her on

Thursday, March 8, 2018


Today is Women’s Day, and I’d like to celebrate it telling the story of two creative, dynamic and brave women: Anna & Anna from Beijing, who started a project called CinCucina.


Women, who follow their husbands around the world: how are they? Privileged, spoiled ladies living in the golden expat bubble, or brave women who overcome difficulties, make sacrifices, win battles and fight to reinvent themselves?

Anna & Anna met in Beijing (and I’m proud to say that I was the one who put them in contact!) and soon became friends. Being Italian, they both like to cook. So, when the Italian Institute of Culture organized an Italian cuisine course and looked for a teacher, they jumped in! 

CinCucina was born: their lessons are specially tailored for Chinese and expats, and they teach simple but genuine Italian dishes, like Pollo alla cacciatora, or Tiramis├╣. In other words, the real Italian cuisine! They also created a cookbook (available in English and Mandarin), which they presented at the Italian Embassy in Beijing during the week of "Italian cuisine in the world".

But who are Anna & Anna, what can they tell us about their personal stories?

My expat life began in 1995,” tells Anna Cincotto RenieroMy husband and I moved to Switzerland, where he started a job he was passionate about. I’m curious and full of energy as well, but I also like to take care of the house and cook a good meal for the family!

In Switzerland, Anna met many International friends, learned French and became the mother of a lively baby girl. 

After Switzerland, Normandy: a small village in which they really felt “foreign” for the first time. There wasn’t a big International community there, so Anna focused on her part-time job and on taking care of her daughter.

After 11 years abroad, Anna and her family went back to Italy and lived for a while in Florence.

I was an expat in Italy, isn’t it funny? I really enjoyed life in Florence, a small but vivacious and international city.”

New destination: a little town in the American province.

That was a cultural shock! I had to learn English, which I didn’t speak at all. And my daughter went from a French school to the American system, in a public school with more than 2000 students!

Anna needed to support her daughter, who didn’t speak English.

She came back home telling me she didn’t understand a word of what the teachers told her. She cried sometimes; she missed her friends. But if children can see strength in their parents’ eyes, they can overcome difficulties easily!

And Anna was a strong woman, indeed. She made friends with new people and started new activities.
And a cooking group, of course! Cooking was always my passion!”

Afer three years, a new change: Paris. And then Beijing.

This was the first time for us in Asia. It may sound strange, but I can find many similarities between American and Chinese culture: in my eyes, they both share a mix of disorganization, kindness, candor.

I’ve never felt lost during my nomad life” states Anna “Worried, sometimes. The most important thing in expat families is to make decisions together, and this is what my husband and I always did. I didn’t feel diminished because he was the one working, I know my job is important as well: I am the one organizing everything, and I am proud of it!”

And what about difficulties?

The most difficult thing for me was learning languages! I had to learn French and English, and I struggled a lot. So this is why I don’t study Chinese!

Different is the story of Anna Cappelloni. She was Born in a small Italian city, and after an Economic degree she moved to Rome to work. There she met the love of her life, the crazy man who proposed her to leave for a 6-month trip in China to study Mandarin.

Instead of running away, I accepted! At that time I didn’t know that choice would have changed my life!

The real chance to move to China happened years later.

We were both working, and we owned a house… that proposal sounded a little shocking!

Eventually, they decided to accept and moved to Tangshan, a small city 180 km away from Beijing, in which there was no expat community. 

And pollution was severe! I was always alone because I had no friends and my husband was working until late.

Not easy days. But Anna reacted and was even able to find a job as English teacher. Four years later they moved to Beijing, definitely a better lifestyle.

There are several challenges for a woman who decides to follow her husband abroad. Many think that you are a privileged woman, and everything is easy and fancy, but they underestimate the strong impact this life can have on your feelings. You leave your family, your place, your job, in other words, a big part of yourself and you may feel lost, without a role, a purpose. You lose your financial independence and may feel guilty when you spend money. You are often alone because your husband works a lot. And you have to substitute Dad the many times he can’t be present (this is the second year in a row that my husband is not here for our daughter’s birthday!). What many people don’t understand, is that our role is essential. Without the support of the spouse, expat life wouldn’t be possible for the family!

CinCucina is a project that let her make of cooking not only a passion but also a job, to meet locals and expats, to feel proud of something hers. 

I believe that having your own project and not being only a wife and a mother is very important. Last year was exciting and fun, and I hope that the new one will bring more challenges and adventures! I’m ready!

You can contact them @CinCucina Wechat or Facebook page to book a lesson or buy a copy of the cookbook (in English and Mandarin).