For our 9th series for our Interview-stories for our amazing Expat Mama around the World, I am so thrilled to feature Sasha Wang, a Chinese Expat Mama who makes waves and living La Dolce Vita with her Italian-Tuscan husband and her 2 years old son in the beautiful classical city of Florence,the capital of the Tuscany region in Italy.
Her story is a closer look on another inspiring tale of a WMAF (White male, Asian Female) love story, who beats the odds of living as Expats in Hongkong , raising their bilingual kid and finally finding Florence as new home. But how does one Chinese lady explores Florence like a curious tourist and get second looks from the locals?
Is it because of her flamboyant fashion style? or is it because of her eye-catching Sunnies?Let’s get to know Sasha and her adventures as she falls in love with her new country with a beautiful smile while decoding the Gelato madness and chasing her frenzy toddler with style.
Sasha’s Profile :
Sasha is a full-time mom, as well as a Travel and Expat Lifestyle Blogger behind the Blog –“Stai al Borgo”. She loves Fashion,modern arts, road tripping, doing Blog tours and exploring the off beaten path destinations in her second home-Florence. She takes her passion for photography seriously and her Instagram feed is well worth of follow. Sasha is a natural food lover, whipping gastronomic delights infused with Asian & European influences such as her deconstructed Insalata de Riso or her own version of Linguini Carbonara!
From China to Hongkong and now in the heart of the Tuscan sun, in Firenze she flairs with her own style and blogs on how to fall in love with Florence while raising her tiny human, with the best of both worlds. Sasha finally claimed her place in the internet when her Blog got shortlisted last May 2015 on the Italy Magazine for the Best Travel Blog Awards 2014 . She also appeared in one of the Locals I love interview from Girl in Florence.
Tell us About your Background
I was born in Shenyang, a city in the north-east China. I lived in Hong Kong for 8 years before moving to Florence. I met my husband, a Tuscan Italian, in Hong Kong. We used to visit Florence for holiday, and we both like the city a lot. In 2015 we decided to move and start a new life in Florence. “Amore” is the reason I am here now.
On view of Florence from a Chinese curious eyes
Florence is definitely a tourist ‘s place. It is considered as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe as well as a fashion hub. As a place filled with classical beauty, renowned Architecture, and great food, the real Tuscan food.The countryside is beautiful and definitely picturesque. The wine is fantastic and sitting in cafes can be a leisurely past time. Sitting in ancient piazzas and seeing beautiful works of art can be breath-taking.
One of the things making the life in Florence “La Dolce Vita” is the flexibility to travel around! Since we moved to Florence, every weekend we try to arrange something. Either meeting friends in the city for coffee or dinner, or me and my husband will drive to places nearby for a lunch or a walk, or we take a one or two-day trip to another city. Tuscany already has so much to be discovered and see, no need to mention other cities/ regions as adventures! Even with a toddler, it did not stop me from traveling, exploring and getting into the local culture as much as possible. With great network of friends and fellow Bloggers, I was able to establish a connection with my new city through Blog tours, food tours, photo walks and other social meet-ups. It doesn’t mean that when I became a mother then I’ll stop to do my passion. Life has been more meaningful with our travels with our Little one.
On the Birth of Stai al Borgo
Stai al Borgo came into life when I decided to share my Expat experiences as a curious resident and showing the beautiful side of Florence. In case you are curious what my Blog name means; Stai is the Italian word for Stay; Borgo refers to Borgo San Frediano.
We have a small apartment in Borgo San Frediano. The first time my husband and I lived there was the New Year’s Eve 2012. We were visiting Florence as tourists back then, but the experience brought me the idea of starting a blog writing about my life/trips in Italy. That’s why I named the blog Stai Al Borgo, because Borgo is where the inspiration came from.
It is interesting to live as an expat, because you are a tourist and resident at the same time. I blog about interesting places I visited as a tourist, also tips for daily life. For example my latest post is about my favorite items for home-cooking from supermarkets.Now we’ve put that apartment in S. Frediano to rent. I use the blog as a channel to promote the apartment and the lifestyle as a resident. If you are planning for a holiday in Florence, you might want to check out our Apartment for rent and I would be your willing host as I introduce you to Florence.
I am working on something related to Chinese tourists here. I’ve registered a website in China, and started my Chinese blog there. I hope to attract those Chinese, who travel independently in Tuscany, and show them different sides of the place, rather than the well-known tourist attractions.
Share something about the current country you are living in and notable aspects .
On my Expat life in Florence
One of the best things of being an expat is that you live in a city with heart of a tourist. Florence makes my expat life so easy (so far) as there are lots of interesting stuff going on. I am constantly surprised by this city for all the new things happening. Last May 2015 we farewell our friends in Hong Kong, packed our past 10 years into 30 carton boxes, took our 11-month old boy with us on a flight, headed to our new home: Florence.
Florence and Hong Kong are two cities with completely different lifestyles and cultures. Starting a new life here can drive you crazy, especially when you are a non-Italian speaker who are used to fast life pace in a modern city like Hong Kong.
Bureaucracy here gives me the biggest headache. Thank God my husband is an Italian, and he is always so supportive and be there for us (me and our son) all the time. The first year, aka the transition period, was the hardest, but we managed to take it easy and settle things well.However being an Asian expat here, although I’ve been married to and lived with an Italian for 5 years, I am still adapting to the Italian (or should I say Florentine) lifestyle!
On raising a Bilingual child
When we moved to Florence last May, our son was just 11-month old. The whole process has been easy for me, because he was too little to be affected by the different lifestyles. And I am happy about this move, as Italy overall is a much more family friendly place than Hong Kong.
Meanwhile the biggest challenge for me is introducing Chinese culture to my baby. I’ve been talking Chinese to him, and he seems to understand even though he replies me in Italian all the time. But I’d like to keep going and let him be able to talk & read his “second mother-tongue”.
Now our son goes to the local nursery during the day, and he develops the skills of playing and communicating with other kids day by day. It has been easy for him, and now he is turning into a little Italian man.
On getting around with a Toddler in Florence
I love my son and I love fashion as well so I am one of those mothers who made an effort to find the best and Unique Baby shops in Florence.I recently discovered an App called “BabyOut Firenze”. It suggests you places to go for the entire family, such as entertainment places, events, restaurants, even pharmacy, pediatric hospitals, etc. It is good to know what are the baby-friendly places around.I also love to watch Family Food Tube, where many parents sharing their baby food recipes. It is a good channel to get new ideas for cooking.
On the absence of Lifts/Elevators in buildings
For people used to live in a city like Hong Kong, lift inside apartment building is like bread, you have it! But as an antique city as Florence, especially in the city center, most of the building doesn’t. From my apartment hunting experience, I did visit one (only one) apartment in the city center with a lift! But it was soooo small. If it is only used by one or two persons at same time, it is still OK. But if more than three, you really need to squeeze yourself in! Well, it can be a good way to know your neighbors.
It is fine I feel exhausted after a long day at work, and still can spare little energy climbing some steps. But if I have my one-year old, his stroller, and grocery all at the same time, it is not funny! Luckily nowadays most of the supermarkets provide home delivery service, but before I get my Italian credit card and start shopping online, I still need to play it in the traditional way.
On the Italian coffee culture
I love coffee. Anytime of the day. But coffee here is too short. Here coffee by default is an espresso, even the “lungo” version is just in a small coffee cup. As Chinese we don’t really have a culture of drinking coffee, but I used to have coffee from Starbucks while living in Hong Kong. Now I really miss those days that I could walk around the city with my coffee in a tall paper cup.
What’s even more shocking? My Italian husband misses the Starbucks too!
The idea of Starbucks was inspired by a coffee shop in Milan, however there is not a single Starbucks in the whole Italy! I miss those days when I can take my coffee in a paper cup and walk from bus station to the office. Here everybody drinks espresso: bottom up, pay and leave. To me it is like taking shots: too fast and too strong.
On the course of Integrating into Italian-Tuscan Culture
I knew I can’t claim Florence by heart if I can’t speak the language so I decided to learn it. I enrolled myself to a two-week Italian course which I found to be very beneficial & smart thing to do. The learning part was great, but the thing I enjoyed the most about attending language school was that I got to go out, meet new people, and built up social life of my own! I was not sure if attending school made me feel older or younger, since all other students in my class were around 20, but I was just happy every morning to pass Ponte alle Grazie, greet Ponte Vecchio and walk alone to Borgo Santa Croce. I started to feel Florence was my city.
Another thing that helped me to love my new country more was when I was invited to join “Tuscany Among The Star” blog tour organized by Fondazione Sistema Toscana. Together with other four content creators, we visited towns among Tuscany, had lots of special moment and experiences together, which was not only mind opening, but also made me falling in love more with this piece of land.
On Italian’s love affair with their food
After living in Florence for one year, I find myself deeply missing the Asian cuisines: Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, all of them! Florence is wonderful for Italian dishes, but only Italian dishes. It is almost impossible to find good Asian restaurant here. Don’t get me wrong, I love Italian food, and I don’t mind to have pasta 5 days a week. However the Asian stomach calls for the taste of my origin from time to time.
Of course the only thing I couldn’t miss in Hong Kong was the great Chinese food! And among all the Chinese cuisines, the one I missed the most was the Sichuan Hot Pot! 三希樓 is my favorite Chinese restaurant in Hong Kong. They specializes in Sichuan cuisine, which is famous for the spicy taste. In Winter, the hot pot in 三希樓 is a must-try if you visit Hong Kong!
I love cooking, and we most of the time eat at home enjoying my dishes.I adore Italian cuisine,and I’ve practiced presentable skills in making pasta and pizza at home.Meanwhile I also prepare Chinese dishes for my family.My husband and my son both like rice with sauteed vegetables dishes for meal.
Our rule is : eat alternately ,eat diversely.
What is your opinion about raising your kid as a third culture kid? ( TCK means a third culture that your child is growing up with compared to the culture of your husband/spouse )
Our son is not considered an expat kid, as he is half Italian. However we are unlike a typical traditional Italian family, which me and my husband are both very happy about.
Both of us have expat experience, and we know how important it is to have the opportunity to know different culture. That’s why I keep talking Chinese to him, and hopefully to involve him to more Chinese cultures while he grows up.
How do you make an impact as an Expat Mama in your country of residence?
I am not sure at this moment, as it is too early to say. Rather than me making an impact, the country is making a big impact on me on how to raise a new life.
Growing up in one-child family, I almost knew nothing about what it is like to raise multiple children by one couple. I’ve seen many Italian Moms taking care of their kids, bringing them around, taking it easy when it comes to problems, etc. It encourages me and gives me confidence to expecting a (potential) bigger family in the future.
Thank you so much Sasha for sharing your wonderful metamorphosis as a Mom, woman, Writer, Adventurer, Stylist, Creator,and becoming the inspiring person you are right now.Indeed, with your style, confidence, and happy vibes about life, you are so deserving to be one of the Locals that Florence could be proud of…and now , an Expat Mama!
To me, clothing is a form of self-expression–there are hints about who you are in what you wear. ~Marc Jacobs
P.S. All photos and fine print in this post are owned and personal photos of Sasha Wang/ Stai al Borgo. Should you wish to use it, please inform her accordingly.
If you got inspired by Sasha and wanted to follow her Expat Life in Florence, you can follow her Instagram, Twitter, and add her as a friend in Facebook.
Have you enjoyed this post? Make sure to check out our other Expat Mamas & Papa stories in The Netherlands, Kuwait, Philippines, Thailand, Berlin , Saudi Arabia , China and of course, how a German-Finnish Expat Papa take on how to Raise a Kung Fu Baby in Germany .
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3 thoughts on “A Chinese girl’s journey to know the Florentines | Expat Mama in Italy”
Thanks again for this interview! I feel honored to be featured here! Look forward to more posts like this, and learning more from other expat Moms. Cheers!
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Thanks Sasha! Pleasure is mine & your story is one of the series I have really enjoyed.
Happy Holidays to you and your family! Boun Natale!