When my Chinese husband awoke on Friday to news of the tsunami in Japan, he did something that, even a year ago, I could never have imagined. He wrote to one of his friends…in Japan. “I heard about the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. I hope you and your family are well.”
Hours later, he felt relieved to read her response: “Thanks for your contact. Now, I’m standing by in my hospital. But I’m fine. And my family are well when I called.”
“She is okay,” he reassured me, after reading her e-mail.
But years ago, when I first mentioned Japan to him, “reassured” is not even close to how I would have described him.
“One of these days, we’ll have to visit Japan,” I mused, just having returned from a trip home to the US, where I passed through the Tokyo Narita Airport.
“Japan? I never want to visit Japan,” he hissed. “I’m anti-Japanese.” He launched into a brief history of Japanese aggression in China, from the first territorial swipes at China during the Sino-Japanese War, to the Second Sino-Japanese War, with Holocaust-like atrocities that Japan had yet to acknowledge publicly. “Haven’t you seen the way Koizumi continues to visit that monument every year? It’s like Germany going to some memorial for Nazi war criminals.”
That’s when I discovered that mentioning Japan to my Chinese husband was the equivalent of throwing an A-bomb into the conversation.
And the explosions didn’t stop there. I watched him scowl at news reports on Sina and Sohu about everything from Japan’s secret military ambitions to Koizumi’s latest offense of the week. He refused to buy anything made in Japan, and sneered at Panasonic, Toshiba and every other Japanese brand. When I begged him to take me out for vegetarian sushi, he would glower at me, saying “sushi?” with such disgust, you would have thought I asked him to dine on sewage.
But after we moved to the US, his anti-Japanese fervor crumbled the first time he met my uncle* Norman — a Japanese-American. At a time when we could barely pay the rent, Norman sold us his used car for a pittance — a Toyota, as it turned out. He gave us free car repairs, and even fixed John’s desktop computer for nothing. John grumbled about the Toyota from time to time, but he became Norman’s number one fan, forgetting that Norman had a personal connection to…er…Japan.
Later, in the summer of 2010, when John presented a poster at an international conference, I almost fell over after his report from the second day’s attendance. “I made some friends from Japan!” he announced, pulling out the business cards from three Japanese researchers who loved his research:
Your study is very interesting. I am wishing that your work is successful.
I want to discuss your research and compare to Japan again!
I am very pleased if my study can be informative for your work.
“They were more interested in my study than most of the Chinese attending,” John confessed.
When he returned, he wrote to the three women by e-mail, and smiled every time I nudged him about his new Japanese contacts — even referring to them as friends of China. “So does this mean you’re betraying your country?” I joked.
Fast forward to this past Friday, when a catastrophe brought John to think of his Japanese friends all over again. So he wrote all three of them. Only one has responded. “I hope they haven’t been swept away by the tsunami,” he wondered.
My Chinese husband, worrying about the Japanese? It’s as if a wave came in and swept his anti-Japanese sentiments away.
“So, does this mean I can buy you a Toshiba someday?” I prodded him, with a grin.
“Not really. I still have standards, you know,” he smiled.
Hmmm. Best not to tell his new Japanese friends.
Have you seen your Chinese friends or loved ones change their minds about Japan? Have you changed your mind about Japan? Why or why not?
P.S.: If you wish to make a donation to help victims in the wake of the Japan tsunami, here’s an article to help you get started.