Bridge Builders:
The Guo family

The family whose wisdom reaches around the world

The family Guo are a mixed Chinese-British unit living in a typical North London street. But there's nothing typical about this family. 

Their back stories are fascinating and during the pandemic they decided to tell their story to the world via YouTube and other video platforms. They have found friends and fame across the internet and their weekly broadcasts routinely reach 250,000 views. So why do so many people tune in?

The youngest member of the family, son Toto Guo, became the driving force behind the YouTube channel – and he always knew his family was especially interesting and entertaining. 

"My dad's an amazing musician, my mom's an amazing gardener. But I feel like they never really had lots of people being able to enjoy their art and their work," he explains. But the family's YouTube channel changed all that. 

"Finally, people have a chance to see them and to interact with them. Now it's like thousands, millions of people," beams Toto. "So for me, that makes me really proud."

The opportunity to make the videos came about because of a huge threat: the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the father Guo Yi is in his late sixties, he's still a busy musician – but pandemic and lockdown curtailed his ability to work.

Even so, he wasn't sure about this new type of performance. But his son Toto was already an expert vlogger, and Guo Yi's friends had also told him that he had to find a way to tell his life story. 

It was a success from the very first livestream. "The people really enjoyed my story," Guo Yi recalls, "and the first time we got about 10-20,000 people watching me. Toto said 'It's a good idea, you must do it.'"

Although he has lived in London for nearly 40 years, Guo Yi still has a strong accent which reflects his homeland – as does his personality. "People think I'm a strong Chinese character – 'You never have changed'," he smiles. 

Yi's life in the UK still revolves around Chinese music and food. But this is not someone who has refused to assimilate. There can be few greater signs of this than marrying an Englishwoman and raising a mixed-heritage family. 

No wonder social media caught alight discovering these bridge-builders between cultures. As Guo Yi puts it: "How fascinating about the very, very Chinese man married with the very, very English woman." And while many women might seem "very, very English" next to Guo Yi, Amanda Guo – known to most as Manda – is indeed a certain archetype of Englishness. 

Raised in "a lovely house" in South Kensington – now the heart of London's museum district, and long one of the capital's most respectable areas, bordering Knightsbridge and Chelsea – Amanda couldn't be more English as she hesitantly admits her parents were "well-off" while insisting they weren't "really wealthy". 

With perhaps typical English reticence, Amanda was somewhat skeptical about the livestreaming project, and left it to the boys. But eventually she was pulled in from the wings to center stage, by public demand: after five months of Guo Yi talking about her, the audience became suspicious.

"The people asked me, 'Are you lying to us? You haven't spoken any English. Where's your wife?'," he laughs. "So I said 'Come on Manda, you have to come and help me!'"

Amanda expected a subsidiary livestreaming role to her husband – "He's very well known in China, people have heard of his music" – but their family dynamic soon became central: "Because I'm English and Guo Yi is Chinese, I think there's an interest in that." Guo Yi couldn't agree more: "The story is really, really fascinating for the Chinese people."

They may be two very different people from very different cultures, but their honesty and openness about the compromises and learning in their relationship has gathered a huge YouTube following, with 8.5 million views and rising fast. 

"I feel quite proud that we've brought something together," says Amanda, "sharing something so two different cultures can see that we're not that different."

Their story has also brought together people around the world. "We ask them, 'Where are you?' And they're all over the world – Africa, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, New York, Canada and Australia," says Guo Yi. "It's amazing that they can talk to us."

And while the audience stretches around the world thanks to modern technology, part of Guo Yi's motivation was to look backwards: the pandemic made him reflect on his fascinating life. 

"I'm already nearly 70 years old, I don't have much time left," he says, "but when I have this energy I want to do a lot of things to build between China and England."

It's something he has been doing for decades.

Their videos often take the audience on a tour of London. /Family Guo

Their videos often take the audience on a tour of London. /Family Guo

Guo Yi introduces Buckingham Palace where he played for the Queen on her 60th birthday. /Guo Family

Guo Yi introduces Buckingham Palace where he played for the Queen on her 60th birthday. /Guo Family

Many of the vlogs are about the ups and downs of their mixed marriage. /Guo Family

Many of the vlogs are about the ups and downs of their mixed marriage. /Guo Family

Mr Lucky

Meeting people is easy...
when you play an unusual instrument brilliantly

Guo Yi promotional image for The Peking Film Orchestra. /Family Guo.

Guo Yi promotional image for The Peking Film Orchestra. /Family Guo.

Guo Yi played the sheng in the Peking Film Orchestra. /Guo Yi

Guo Yi played the sheng in the Peking Film Orchestra. /Guo Yi

Guo Yi played the sheng in the Peking Film Orchestra. /Guo Yi

Guo Yi with his Peking Film Orchestra colleagues. /Guo Yi

Guo Yi with his Peking Film Orchestra colleagues. /Guo Yi

Guo Yi with his Peking Film Orchestra colleagues. /Guo Yi

The Guo Brothers backstage at a WOMAD concert. /Guo Yi

The Guo Brothers backstage at a WOMAD concert. /Guo Yi

The Guo Brothers backstage at a WOMAD concert. /Guo Yi

Guo Yi with fellow musicians outside Abby Road studios recording for Hollywood film 'Apocalypto'.

Guo Yi with fellow musicians outside Abby Road studios recording for Hollywood film 'Apocalypto'.

Guo Yi with fellow musicians outside Abby Road studios recording for Hollywood film 'Apocalypto'.

Guo Yi was born in 1954 in Beijing. He grew up in the hutong – an ancient type of neighborhood built around a narrow street.

"The family were really poor," he admits, "but we had a really, really nice time. I have a very nice memory of my childhood. My family's actually, in the Chinese way, really big. There were seven of us, but one died when she was four years old, so six of us."

Despite a struggle to make ends meet, the Guo family were rich in talent – and looking back, the parents' specialties hinted at young Guo Yi's future. Guo Yi’s mother was a linguist who spoke Russian and Japanese, and taught English; his father was a famous musician. 

Following their father onto the stage, two of Guo Yi's sisters became famous opera singers, another became a dancer, while Guo Yi and his brother Guo Yue grew up to be musicians, Guo Yi mastering the ancient free-reed sheng while Guo Yue became a virtuoso of the dizi (bamboo flute) and bawu (free reed pipe). 

"When I was in China, I was a professional musician, doing so well," recalls Yi. "I was a soloist in the Peking Film Orchestra and my dream was to be a conductor or composer." 

However, as a sheng player and approaching 30 years old, there was little chance of him rising to be a conductor. So when his sister wrote from London suggesting he attended a Western music college to improve his career, he decided to make the leap: "I saved about £70 and bought a single ticket from Beijing to London."

It sounds simple enough, but getting the ticket was just the start of his adventure. In the early 1980s there were no direct flights from China to England. 

"It was like taking the bus – there were five stops and it took 48 hours," he laughs. "From China to Karachi, Karachi to some Arabic country, then from there to Romania, from Romania to Belgium and then from Belgium I fly to London."

But as he descended into London, the whole tortuous journey seemed worth it. “When the aeroplane landed at Heathrow, I saw such beautiful nature, I had never seen scenery so beautiful, so nice.”

Settling in – and circling the planet

"When the people met me, I was strange."

Guo Yi found himself to be somewhat of a novelty in 1980s London. "Very few people came to the West, and most people came from Hong Kong," he explains. "When I went to college, they asked me 'Where do you come from?' When I said I come from Beijing, people said 'Whaaat!? You come from Beijing!?' 

"They asked me so many things about China, because the feeling at that time, the early 80s – for the Western people, China is a fascinating country and very, very sacred."

Guo Yi attended Hammersmith College to study English, but on his way there he saw something else that caught his eye and imagination.

"I saw some people busking in the Underground station, and I thought 'Why am I not trying that?' So I tried busking in South Kensington and immediately people were really intrigued and fascinated by my instruments and my music." 

Not just members of the public, either. He was spotted by the traditional Irish folk band The Chieftains, who immediately invited him on tour. "Their Irish music is actually very similar to our Chinese music," Guo Yi explains. The tour led to a BBC interview and a documentary about the sheng, "and so many people asked me to play concerts – I started getting busy, busy, busy."

Busking with his brother in London's central Covent Garden, he caught yet more expert attention. "It's a very artistic area and we met the leader of WOMAD" –  the World of Music, Arts and Dance festival, which since 1980 has toured the planet promoting what became known as 'world music' from various cultures. So, obviously, "They immediately asked us to join the WOMAD festival."

That was 1987 and the Guo Brothers toured with WOMAD for 17 years, traveling to at least 40 different countries. The artists came from everywhere and The Guo Brothers represented China.

"We met so many people, so many musicians and it was so exciting because each festival is so big – most of the time, about 100,000 people," Guo Yi says. "I met a lot of famous musicians and I learned quite a lot of different music. We had a fantastic time."

Guo Yi also became the go-to guy for any film score that needed an East Asian flavor. "I'm so lucky that in the 1980s, there's not many Chinese musicians in the West," he explains. "Some people asked me to play a music score for the Hollywood film The Killing Fields – they needed some pipes music, so my instrument is suitable. So that's the first time recording for a Hollywood film, in the Abbey Road studio." 

Guo Yi continued with the busking, and while playing on London's artsy South Bank he was spotted by David Byrne – the Talking Heads songwriter turned film-maker: "David Byrne walked past and just said, 'I love your music, can you come to the studio?'" 

That led to recording the music for the Hollywood film The Last Emperor, and the Guo Brothers played at the premiere in Leicester Square: "I met the Queen, Prince Charles and Lady Diana," Guo Yi smiles.

From the humble to the mighty, Guo Yi has met all strands of British society, and says he has encountered refreshingly little racism. "I was working outside as a busker for 35 years, even more," he says. "Western people treated me quite well, and I didn't feel people looked down on me or patronized me."

If anything, he had more trouble with other immigrants. He found that "Hong Kong people had racism against mainland China, because they think that they are much richer, and also they treat themselves like English," he recalls.

This affected him in his other job. "I was working in a Chinatown for a Chinese restaurant, and most Chinese restaurants were owned by the Hong Kong people. Well, when you worked there and you didn't answer in their language – they speak Cantonese, I speak Mandarin – when you don't understand the Hong Kong Chinese, sometimes they treated you not really nice."

The Guo Brothers are advertised at WOMAD. /Guo Family

The Guo Brothers are advertised at WOMAD. /Guo Family

The Guo Brothers album cover "Yuan' 1990. /Guo family

The Guo Brothers album cover "Yuan' 1990. /Guo family

Guo Yi played with many famous musicians through the 1980s. /Guo family

Guo Yi played with many famous musicians through the 1980s. /Guo family

Item 1 of 3

The Guo Brothers are advertised at WOMAD. /Guo Family

The Guo Brothers are advertised at WOMAD. /Guo Family

The Guo Brothers album cover "Yuan' 1990. /Guo family

The Guo Brothers album cover "Yuan' 1990. /Guo family

Guo Yi played with many famous musicians through the 1980s. /Guo family

Guo Yi played with many famous musicians through the 1980s. /Guo family

From Kensington to China

How a 'well-off' Londoner fell in love with a Chinese musician

It wasn't just world-famous musicians that Guo Yi met while busking. One chance encounter changed his life forever: Guo Yi's first busking 'patch' in South Kensington brought him into contact with the woman who would become his wife. 

Amanda Ridley was born in 'South Ken' in 1956 to an upper middle-class family. "I think our childhoods were very different, definitely," she says of her husband. "My father was a consultant and we lived in a lovely house. I wouldn't say we were really wealthy, but I'd say my parents were well-off – nice holidays, I remember. And my grandparents had a lovely house in the country."

While Amanda was studying social anthropology at university, a friend of her mother mentioned that she had seen someone playing an exotic instrument at the local Underground station. 

"She loved his music – I mean, when you hear it, it's really extraordinary," says Amanda. "She thought I'd be interested in meeting someone from a different culture, and I knew nothing about China."

That cued up a classic English social encounter: "She had a dinner party and invited me and my mum and Guo Yi and his brother." And immediately Amanda's interest became somewhat more than anthropological. Even now, she struggles to find the words to express it.

"I immediately…. I don't know, I just really, I think fell for him probably, but didn't really know it at the time. He was very charismatic."

Thus began a cultural exchange: Amanda was interested in Guo Yi, while Guo Yi wanted to know more about London and asked Amanda to show him around. They had lots of trips to museums and parks and got to know each other better. And almost accidentally fell in love.

The relationship came naturally to Amanda, although its crosscultural nature had its challenges.

"There's so much to learn, I suppose, and that sort of fascination… I think it's very hard to say why people are attracted," she says. "Obviously language has been a big barrier – still is a barrier, really: I'm not clever enough to speak Mandarin, and Guo Yi speaks English, but he's not perfect. So we sort of just communicate. I think we've both got a similar sense of humor – we laugh at the same things."

This wasn't the first time Amanda had tried to embrace a new culture, as she had spent a year of university in the United States. "I was in a university in the middle of America and everyone was really great, but I felt this kind of loneliness," she recalls. 

"I felt quite culturally different and I could never quite put my finger on it because we actually shared the same language and a lot of history. Whereas I didn't really feel that with Guo Yi. I don't know why."

Meeting the in-laws

In 1987 Amanda and Guo Yi celebrated their marriage by going to China to meet his family and see his home country.

"The first time I went, Guo Yi and I had just got married, and I loved it, really loved it. It was very different then – when we first landed, I remember looking out of the plane window and there was a woman sweeping the runway with a brush. 

"Then as we went into Beijing, there was this incredible noise, and I said, 'Hey, what's that sound?' And it was the bicycle bells. So it's very different to how it is now."

While Beijing was full of bicycles in the 1980s – it's difficult to get an accurate number for the city itself, but as a country China produced 41 million new bikes in 1987 alone – there were very few cars on the roads. 

"Once we took Guo Yi's mother to Tiananmen Square, and we waited on one of the ring roads for a taxi for about an hour," remembers Amanda. "And now it's obviously jammed the whole time." 

If Amanda was meeting a whole new country, she also had one particularly important person to get on the right side of. 

"We stayed in his mother's flat, and I was quite nervous to meet her because she's quite formidable, and she's been very critical of Guo Yi's girlfriends beforehand. Sometimes she'd say to them 'Get out! Get out!'," Amanda laughs.

Thankfully, she didn't suffer the same date. "Her English was amazing. She wanted to go to the Beijing Hotel, which was then called the Peking Hotel – we had coffee there and that was quite a luxury."

Amanda also stuck by her newfound family. "We'd go to shops sometimes and Chinese people weren't allowed in – it said 'Western-only shops.' So I decided I'm not going then, unless Guo Yi's friends can come."

If Beijing was a new experience, then the culture shock deepened when the couple went traveling in the countryside.

"We went on a trip down to Yellow Mountain, and it was strange – everyone was so amazingly kind and warm, but we were supposed to sit in different parts of the train. Guo Yi had the hard seat and I sat in a soft seat – it was quite separate then, it's not at all like that now. 

"When we booked into a hotel, it was very difficult – they wouldn't let me stay, or they wouldn't let Guo Yi stay. We'd have to show our wedding certificate and they'd say, 'Where's Wandsworth Town Hall? Where's the photo?' 

"I think being Western was quite a novelty, it was unusual. Sometimes I used to get really stared at – not in a nasty way, just in a quizzical way. Whereas now when I go, you're not a novelty at all and it's much easier – you're just a person."

The next generation

In 1992 Amanda was surprised and delighted to find that she was expecting a baby: "It was amazing, because I'd always been told I might not be able to have children, so he was sort of a gift."

Right from the first moment, Guo Yi's busy career was to take him away from being a hands-on father. "Toto was born at four o'clock in the morning and at five o'clock, Guo Yi's supposed to be at the BBC studios," recalls Amanda. "He just literally legged it there." 

Throughout Toto's childhood, the couple tried to introduce their son to Chinese culture.

"We went to China when he was 18 months, his first trip to China. And that was amazing because on the flight going there he started really talking. And then we got to China, he started speaking Mandarin!"

Toto was able to meet his Chinese family and when they returned to the UK, Guo Yi and Amanda sent him to a Chinese nursery part-time. However, the Chinese community in the UK was predominantly from Hong Kong which was still, at that time, a British colony. 

"It was Cantonese speaking, really, but they did speak some Mandarin. But they gave them Chinese food and there were lots of actually mixed-race Chinese children – he made a really good friend who was Chinese and black Caribbean."

The couple's biggest regret when raising their son was that Guo Yi didn't speak Mandarin with him.

"We both regret that a lot," Amanda concedes. "He has a lot of cousins from Guo Yi's sister's side who always spoke Mandarin." "I had no time to teach him," admits Guo Yi sadly.

"I wish we'd spent a bit more time in China, especially maybe when Toto was younger," continues Amanda, before brightening: "Hopefully we're going to spend more time now."

Finances restricted their options, but Guo Yi and Toto went together when the boy was 11 years old. 

"I think it was very, very important," Guo Yi says. "I took him to Beijing, we saw the Forbidden City and all over, and then eventually I took him to my home where I was young – the area really looked dirty. 

"I asked him 'Where is your favorite place?' and he said 'Baba, your home' – very sentimental. Since that time, I think he started to like Chinese food, Chinese songs and Chinese films. He collected so many films he became kind of an expert."

Toto is a fine example of growing up with mixed heritage. Life has not always been easy for those who marry across cultures, but Amanda sees improvement over time.

"It's much more integrated now, I'd say," she says. "There are always some ill-informed, ignorant people who are prejudiced or racist, and they probably are about many other people who are different from them. But generally, I think people have an interest in Chinese culture – it's just quite normal, especially for us because we live in London, which is such a mixed, culturally rich and mixed city. I don't notice particularly that Chinese people are treated differently in any way."

Even so, a certain recent global pandemic has threatened that harmony.

"Coronavirus could have happened anywhere in the world and it just happened to be discovered in China," says Amanda. "I think there was some backlash from that – ignorant people saying, 'Oh, it's the Chinese fault', which I think is really shocking. And I'd be ashamed if any Chinese people suffered from that in this country, or any mixed-race people, but I think that is a minority."

Amanda grew up in London but enjoyed her grandparents' 'lovely' house in the country. /Amanda Guo

Amanda grew up in London but enjoyed her grandparents' 'lovely' house in the country. /Amanda Guo

Amanda grew up in London but enjoyed her grandparents' 'lovely' house in the country. /Amanda Guo

She lived in west London and was studying for a Masters when she met Guo Yi. /Amanda Guo

She lived in west London and was studying for a Masters when she met Guo Yi. /Amanda Guo

She lived in west London and was studying for a Masters when she met Guo Yi. /Amanda Guo

The couple got married at Wandsworth Town Hall in London. /Guo Family

The couple got married at Wandsworth Town Hall in London. /Guo Family

Amanda and Guo Yi at the Great Wall of China. /Guo family

Amanda and Guo Yi at the Great Wall of China. /Guo family

Amanda and Guo Yi at the Great Wall of China. /Guo family

Toto was a delightful surprise for Amanda who thought she may never have children. /Guo family

Toto was a delightful surprise for Amanda who thought she may never have children. /Guo family

Toto was a delightful surprise for Amanda who thought she may never have children. /Guo family

A child of two heritages

How the unexpected child of two cultures bridged the world

Toto was a much loved addition to the family. /Family Guo

Toto was a much loved addition to the family. /Family Guo

Toto grew up between the British and Chinese culture but didn't learn Mandarin as a child. /Guo Family

Toto grew up between the British and Chinese culture but didn't learn Mandarin as a child. /Guo Family

Guo Yi and baby Toto with family and friends in London. /Guo Family

Guo Yi and baby Toto with family and friends in London. /Guo Family

Toto and a friend watch Guo Yi busking at a Chinese festival. /Family Guo

Toto and a friend watch Guo Yi busking at a Chinese festival. /Family Guo

Toto moved to China in 2015, living and working in Beijing as a model until 2020.

Toto moved to China in 2015, living and working in Beijing as a model until 2020.

Amanda visits Toto when he lived in China in 2017. /Family Guo

Amanda visits Toto when he lived in China in 2017. /Family Guo

At some point in their life, every child wonders where they came from and what that means. But for Toto Guo, that was a particularly complicated query to resolve. 

"I remember at a very young age being quite confused," says Toto, who was born in London in 1992. "What does this mean to be half-British, half-Chinese? Because I knew that meant that I was different from a lot of my British friends, and it was quite hard to make sense of that."

Toto's problem was particularly acute because his Chinese father was so often traveling the globe to perform. 

"I remember feeling a real distance between me and my dad because he was always working, and I think as a result of that, I never really spent enough time with him for us to bond properly and for him to teach me any Chinese at all," he says – which his father admits is true: "I had no time to teach him." 

That left Toto partially estranged from his heritage: "I couldn't speak a word of Chinese until much, much later. So growing up, even though my identity was mixed and we saw Chinese family and I went to China for a few holidays, I never really got the chance to learn a culture and to embrace my Chinese side."

The opportunity arose when Toto completed his education. "When I finished university, I finally had the chance to think 'What am I going to do with myself?' and I thought, 'I have to get to China – it has to be now, otherwise the clock is ticking. It's going to get too late."

He moved to China at 25, began to learn the language and followed his paternal family onto the stage – with a subtle twist. "I studied acting at university, and I always liked performance," he says. "That's one thing I really took from my dad: if you're the kind of person that loves the spotlight, loves the attention, wants to be the loudest person in the room, then you have to embrace that and go for that. I really took that from him, because he's a musician and I love acting."

But in a new country, Toto faced a clear linguistic problem. "I became a model because I thought that's the best way to use my performance skills, because I can't speak a word of Chinese – I have to just stand there, I can't really act and have lines."

It seemed a good plan, but it wasn't quite the smooth process Toto had envisaged. "I was expecting this dream-come-true scenario where suddenly I understood China and I embraced that side," he says. " A lot of young people see Beijing or Shanghai as Hollywood – you go there to chase your dream. And it wasn't like that: I was always confused, couldn't communicate properly, it was really hard."

Curiously, that isolation would provide Toto's solution, along with the nature of his work. "When you're modeling on set, you're there all day, and often I would be the only English speaker on set," he explains. "We'd be there for 12, 16 hours and I'd have nothing to do but chat in Chinese – so that's how I learned."

It helped that he felt a connection. "I always felt in China, even though I couldn't speak Mandarin, that the culture there is so different from London. London is a fantastic place, I love how multicultural it is, it's my home – but at the same time, Beijing is also my home and what's different in Beijing is that China feels very connected, like a very united culture. It feels like one big family, and slowly, I felt more and more part of that."

But then came COVID-19. 

Reaching the world from home

Nobody was ready for a pandemic, but it was a particular wrench for Toto. "I was in Beijing, living with my girlfriend, and it was a dream come true – and then suddenly, oh my God, it's spreading."

Purely by chance, in early 2020 Toto flew back to see his parents in London. "I came to see my mom and dad for what I thought was a holiday," he recalls. The new, still unnamed coronavirus still hadn't reached the UK, but "by the time I was here, the Chinese borders were closed." 

Toto therefore got an unusually personal, and annoying, view of pandemic preparedness. "Within a couple of months, the situation in the UK had gotten so bad and things were already getting better in China, but I was stuck here. After three or four years of living my dream, I was back at home with my parents with no way of going back to work."

What's more, his parents' health took what he calls "a serious decline – not COVID-related, but the most serious problems they've ever faced. They were forced to retire and they didn't want to, and I felt like I'd lost my career and my dream. It was a really, really tough period." 

Having successfully reached out in his twenties with his Chinese heritage, Toto was suddenly, savagely cut off. But like a lot of people around the world, he looked online for connection. 

"Someone told me that not only do the Chinese people love watching social media, that's a big source of entertainment for them, but also everyone's making it because everyone's just stuck at home," he recalls. And the idea struck – but it wasn't an easy sell.

"I'd always wanted to film my dad because I always knew how talented he was. But he's the kind of person that doesn't agree to do any kind of performance unless it's professional. He said, 'What's the point in making videos?' And I said, 'Let's just tell your story.' And slowly, these videos became more and more popular."

Toto has taken great pride in introducing his parents to the world. "They've got this huge following and they're really admired," he smiles. "It's so fantastic because nobody is ever too old to be creative. The supporters have just been so warm and so kind, and it's a way for us from London to reach China."

Not only that, but it has reinvigorated his links with his multicultural hometown – "I realized in London there's so much to do, with all of these cross-cultural events" – and added a purpose to his career. 

"The stuff I can do here is more important than the stuff I was doing in China – modeling and commercials, you're not really doing anything that positive. But through our channel and the events, you're really making friends and being a bit of an ambassador for different cultures."

That's how his family came together, so it's entirely suitable that they take the message online to millions. "Through the good and the bad, our family has been totally informed by the fact that we're a British-Chinese family – in everyday communication, in work, in everything. So to share that is really quite special. We're very lucky."

Toto created out a career in modeling in Beijing. /Toto Guo

Toto created out a career in modeling in Beijing. /Toto Guo

Toto created out a career in modeling in Beijing. /Toto Guo

When Toto learned Mandarin he began his career as a presenter in China. /Toto Guo

When Toto learned Mandarin he began his career as a presenter in China. /Toto Guo

Item 1 of 3
Toto created out a career in modeling in Beijing. /Toto Guo

Toto created out a career in modeling in Beijing. /Toto Guo

Toto created out a career in modeling in Beijing. /Toto Guo

When Toto learned Mandarin he began his career as a presenter in China. /Toto Guo

When Toto learned Mandarin he began his career as a presenter in China. /Toto Guo

How to stay happy

Advice from a cross-cultural couple still in love after decades

Guo Yi and Amanda have been together for 34 years. That's a laudable achievement for any couple, even from the same culture. Ask them how they manage it, and they begin the loving banter typical of so many long-term relationships.

"My background is completely different from Manda," says Guo Yi, "because when we were young, we didn't have a fridge, we didn't have a washing machine, we didn't have a television, telephone – we really, really had nothing. 

"But then when you were young," he says to his wife, "you already have these kind of material things. And of course, you don't understand our life – that's a big barrier between you and me. When I watch Chinese movies, after five minutes, I'm crying but you don't understand."

Amanda starts diplomatically – "It's true. My background is different" – before agreeing with her husband's assessment. "It's never boring with Guo Yi but I think you have to be realistic – there are struggles too, from being from different cultures. Even now, often we still misunderstand each other from a cultural point of view, not just personality.

"But we get through it, we sort it out. I feel proud that it's possible, you can have very different cultures and backgrounds. It doesn't really matter – your personality matters much more."

Drill down into the differences and they begin to squabble lovingly. 

"I'm better at eating Chinese food," volunteers Amanda, before turning to her husband: "You're quite stubborn about Western food." Guo Yi doesn't argue, confessing that he has "a Chinese stomach." He cooks his own food, but this too can still be a bone of contention for Amanda.

"It's ridiculous – I still complain about the amount of oil flying around the kitchen," she smiles. "And then I think: it's 34 years! We just need to have a separate kitchen, not open-plan, and put an extractor in – or have a kitchen outside…"

Asked to give advice for anybody starting a mixed Chinese-British relationship, she jokingly sticks to her guns – "keep your kitchen" – before humbly admitting: "I think probably it would have been better if I spoke Mandarin. But it doesn't matter, we're very happy. It's fine."

Guo Yi gazes at Amanda, says "Already 35 years have passed," and Amanda laughs: "Yeah, It might be strange if I suddenly spoke Mandarin…."

The two have been building bridges between China and England for all these years, but they're not stopping yet. Indeed, as they embrace retirement with a wholly unexpected new pastime of livestreaming their life experiences to a welcoming world, they're entering a new phase of cross-cultural pollination. 

Toto attends a Chinese event in London with his parents. /Sun Lan/ CGTN Europe

Toto attends a Chinese event in London with his parents. /Sun Lan/ CGTN Europe

Amanda Guo and Guo Yi at a party in London in the 1980s. /Guo Family

Amanda Guo and Guo Yi at a party in London in the 1980s. /Guo Family

Amanda Guo and Guo Yi have now been together for 34 years. /Guo Family

Amanda Guo and Guo Yi have now been together for 34 years. /Guo Family

Credits

By Elizabeth Mearns
With Sun Lan, Gary Parkinson
Video editing Terry Wilson
Animation and video James Sandifer
Chief editor Guo Chun
Executive producer Duncan Hooper