Chinese American Michelle Guo — a fellow blogger and personal friend — shares her story of how she went to China and ended up marrying Alex, a man from Henan Province.
Four years ago when I first came to Beijing, locals asked me what brought me back to China. The question always threw me off, since I was born in Portland, spent most of my life in California, and had never been to China before. I’m Chinese-American and was raised by my mom, who is anything BUT a traditional Chinese parent. My values, thinking, and culture are very Western, which is why I assumed that whoever I married, no matter what ethnicity, would also be American, or at the very least a Westerner.
Sometimes it’s really, really nice to make the wrong assumption.
My first year in Beijing, I did a 6-month internship at an international hotel. On one of my first days there, I noticed an incredibly handsome guy in the staff cafeteria. I asked my friend Lily about him, and she said he worked in the hotel’s Western restaurant. Conveniently enough, I had a two-week rotation coming up in the Western restaurant. Also convenient was my friendship with the Human Resources guy who planned my schedule. I managed to convince him to change my rotation to one month instead of just two weeks. Some may call it manipulation; I call it creating opportunities.
During this time, unknown to me, Alex’s parents were trying to set him up with numerous girls from his hometown in Henan Province. He was about 24 years old at the time, and in his parents’ minds, he should have been married by then. Alex continually refused to go to these forced meetings, wanting his future wife to be one of his own choice.
We got to know each other slowly in groups during my one-month rotation. To be honest, I had no idea if he liked me because it was never obvious and incredibly hard to tell. Although, having talked to him about it since then, I realized that in his mind it was pretty clear that he was interested, even though he never actually told me. At the end of that month, he finally got my number from a mutual friend and texted me. I found out during our texting session that he liked to read. Lightbulb! Opportunity for a first date! “I’m going to Haidian Park tomorrow morning to read. Do you want to join me?” I asked him. Truth was, I had no plans, especially not to read in the frostbite-inducing cold of Beijing’s winter.
The next morning, I showed up at the park and found Alex waiting for me. It was the perfect romantic setting. The snow had just fallen and had covered the park with an untouched, peaceful look. I had brought a book to keep up pretenses, but we ended up walking around the trails, chatting for four blissful hours.
Though I went home two months after we started dating, I ended up coming back to Beijing after being home for only 6 months. I had no job and no apartment when I came back, but I knew that I wanted to be in the same city as Alex as our relationship developed. After two and a half years together, my handsome Chinese man proposed to me on my birthday, dressed head-to-toe in a Winnie the Pooh costume and down on one knee in the middle of the Beitucheng subway station. Best. Birthday. Ever.
We got married in Alex’s village in a traditional ceremony, complete with me riding around in a red palanquin (that part was actually my idea – arriving in an Audi is overrated). My traditional wedding surprised everyone I knew, including myself. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Who else can say they made a grand entrance at their wedding to the epic theme song from Pirates of the Caribbean while bubbles and confetti exploded around a giant arch?
Our relationship is still a really interesting dynamic. From the outside, we look like any other local Chinese couple. Many times we are reminded that just because we are ethnically from the same culture doesn’t mean that we are similar in our thinking and expectations. It has definitely challenged my own thinking and the things I take for granted. I explained the concept of anniversaries to Alex when we first started dating, and even though I don’t care too much about them, he still remembers every single month and will buy me roses (which I promptly kill within a day) for special anniversaries.
One of the things that first attracted me to Alex was his intelligence. He loves to read (even more than me, which is saying a lot!), and I’m a bit ashamed to say that he often knows more about current US news than I do. Though I’ve heard stereotypes of chauvinistic Chinese men who expect women to do all the household chores, the truth is that my husband spends more time doing laundry and cleaning the floor than I do — which motivates me to do more cleaning to keep up. I’d say that my favorite thing about us is that laughter is ever-present in our relationship. The ability to be silly and laugh about the most insignificant things has the power to transcend and connect all cultures, and brings the two of us closer together as each day in our married life passes by.
Michelle Guo blogs about expat life in Beijing and social media tips.
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