As the wife of a Chinese man, I’m used to attracting attention when I’m out and about in China. The stares, the questions about where I’m from, the way cars slow down to gawk at us — it’s all par for the course.
So during one of our evening walks in the village, I wasn’t surprised when an elderly woman walking in the opposite direction suddenly began asking my husband questions.
“Where are you from?” she inquired in the local dialect.
John mentioned the name of his village, nestled right in the heart of the valley.
“Where is she from?”
“America. She’s my wife.”
The woman grimaced at him in disbelief. “That’s nonsense!” Yes, she refused to believe that someone from John’s little mountain village could have possibly married a woman from America. And she walked away, not to be bamboozled by us.
When John translated the whole conversation for me (I’m still working on my local dialect) I nearly doubled over in laughter. “Are you kidding? She thought you were lying about me?”
It was the first time anyone in China doubted the authenticity of our relationship. But as strange as it sounded, I could understand why. In John’s hometown, it’s not uncommon to meet people who have spent their entire lives, knowing little else beyond these mountains thick with hardy bamboo and fragrant Chinese red pines, and the rice paddies and terraced gardens sculpted into the hillsides. Who could imagine that one of their hometown sons would meet and marry a foreigner, let alone spend years in her country? As rare as it is to find Chinese men and Western women together in China’s urban playgrounds, out here in the Zhejiang countryside such a coupling sounds impossible and even ridiculous.
The Chinese government advises foreigners to carry their passports with them at all times in China. I have to wonder, should I also carry around my Chinese marriage license so I’m prepared for the next time someone calls my marriage “nonsense”?