Guest Post: Will I keep my Asian surname? Am I Asian? Am I Western?

When an intercultural relationship ends – a relationship that deeply impacted who you are – what does it mean for your identity?

Serina Huang (a fantastic writer, blogger, mother and frugalista many of us know as the Taiwanxifu) writes, “Now that I am no longer with my Taiwanese husband, I am beginning to rediscover and question who I am. Will I keep my Asian surname? Am I Asian? Am I Western?”

Do you have a story you’d like to share on Speaking of China? Have a look at the submit a post page to learn more about how to become a guest poster.

—–

11414799_843733932373119_1316058218_n (1)

“Is he Australian?” my friend Rose asked.

I knew what she meant, but still the question surprised me. I paused for a minute, before replying, “no, actually, he’s English.”

Her eyebrows went up slightly, and she gave a slight giggle. “Oh, Serina!”

For seventeen years I had shared my life with a Taiwanese man, with whom I bore two dual-cultural children. We were introduced while I was studying Mandarin Chinese at University: he had been my language partner, and – quite unexpectedly to all concerned, myself included – morphed into my partner with whom I hoped I would spend my life.

I have spent over twenty years being immersed in Chinese (and Taiwanese) culture. This isn’t something faddish, but rather something was essential in my role as a Taiwanese xifu or daughter-in-law. Before we were married, my Taiwanese mother-in-law told me that once I became a xifu I must become Taiwanese rather than a foreigner. (She also made it clear she expected to live with us and for me to care for her in her old age.) I laughed a little about this as it seemed absurd not to live like an Australian in my own country.

But somehow, bit by bit, I changed. I became an egg: outwardly white, yet inwardly Asian yellow. I would go to work and act out my work existence, but somehow felt different and apart, unsure about how to behave in the oddly open Australian office environment. I didn’t spend my evenings and weekends the way that other people seemed to; I rarely went out for after work drinks, rarely went to the movies, hardly ever watched commercial TV.

Instead I went home to cook for a house full of Asian people – for six years we had home-stay students and invariably they were Chinese, broken up occasionally by Japanese or Korean students. I bought rice in 10kg bags (only ever high-grade Japonica rice, which I cooked in a special Ta-tung electric cooker we had imported from Taiwan). I only purchased the proper brand of naturally brewed soy sauce. I learned through trial and error to cook meals that tasted the way a Chinese mother would have made them. I still remember the night my husband nodded with appreciation because I had stir-fried a simple meal of Hokkien chicken noodles just right “That tastes like it was cooked by someone Chinese, not like a lao wai,” he said, scooping up mouthfuls of the noodles with relish in his shiny metal chopsticks.

We were always saving money to invest in properties that would help build a better future for us and for the children I eventually produced. One of my work colleagues laughed at this and told me I was ‘so boring and so Chinese.’ Unlike him, I didn’t have cool or expensive hobbies, and we rarely travelled. When we were invited to noisy dinner gatherings with Chinese friends, invariably the discussion would drift to money and investing in property. Even people who were not working had investments. We were held up as models of the successful Taiwanese immigrant life. My husband was an investment guru and financial star and held court dispensing advice for those looking to emulate our experience.

11356128_843733962373116_1298117246_n (1)

We rarely dined out and instead spent evenings sitting on the sofa watching Japanese soap-operas with Chinese subtitles. My favourite mega-series, which I have watched at least four times, is called ‘Diamond Girl’. Kind of like a Japanese version of Legally Blonde, it follows the journey of a privileged and spoiled young woman (with her endless wardrobe of brand name clothing) who worked as a secretary in law firm in an impossible quest to win back her fiancé. In the beginning of the series she studies (or rather socializes) in Sydney, and I loved seeing my own country through the eyes of a Japanese fashion princess. I so wanted to be Diamond Girl: she was cute and sassy, and I aspired to wear her bright and sexy clothes.

Later, I became madly addicted to a Taiwanese soap Inborn Pair. It is an odd title, and a better translation is Love Looking for Trouble. I lusted over the clean-cut Burberry overcoat clad actor who played the lead in the series, Chris Wang. I discovered that he spent his early years studying/working in Australia, and I used to daydream about meeting him and casually asking about his experiences Downunder. I imagined him as a younger and more romantic version of my husband. In my dreams I was transported back to an idealized vision of when we first met, before xifu responsibilities and cross-cultural misunderstandings got in the way.

Of course these were hardly tales that you could talk about in the kitchenette at work while filling up my thermos to make a cup of Taiwanese gaoshan high mountain green tea.

“You know, last night I cooked Chinese kongxincai greens with fermented beancurd, stewed fatty pork belly with star anise and hard boiled eggs, and served it over perfectly steamed rice. And then I watched Diamond Girl pretend to be a hostess in a bar in order to win back a client whom she accidentally insulted at the law firm she worked at. Oh, and her boss really likes the tea that she makes for him – you can tell because he grunted.” This wasn’t something most ‘Aussies’ could relate to.

Now that I am no longer with my Taiwanese husband, I am beginning to rediscover and question who I am. Will I keep my Asian surname? Am I Asian? Am I Western? What does the ‘West’ even mean? What bits of my ‘egg’ identity to I want to keep? Are there bits that I want to separate out, like a yolk being separated from the whites?

Above all, how to explain to New Man, whom I started dating in a strange yuan fen coincidence of destiny that only Chinese people could fully understand, that I might look like outwardly a plump middle-aged Anglo-Saxon mother, but my head and my heart operate quite differently.

Some things are easy: I tell him my favourite band is the Taiwanese rock group Mayday (aka wu yue tian), and I love singing karaoke classics by Teresa Teng and Ah-mei, and more recent songs by the lovely Della Ting and breathless Jia Jia. He nods but I know that Mando-pop will probably never appeal. At least my Taiwanese-Australian girlfriend gets it; over Easter we spend an afternoon belting out karaoke classics on my computer while my kids are with their father. She introduces me to Leehom and Kimberly; I fall in love with Leehom youtube videos and he becomes my new Asian pin-up model.

I talk about my student days in Beijing, with toilets that stank so much I could smell them from my room down the hallway. About my first frightened night in student accommodation and the drunken Kazakhstanis who kick-boxed down the door opposite mine in a quest for beer from the xiaomaibu store. Surviving that to spend a year partying and flirting with abandon. Naively backpacking through China. About living in Taiwan, about the dumplings, vegetarian buffets with fake meat and vegetables grown in the mountains, hidden hipster cafes in the back laneways and how sad I was to say goodbye to the royal blue LED-lit tiers of Taipei 101 as our chauffeured car swung past it in the light winter rain. I joke about travelling back to Taiwan with my mother-in-law on my honeymoon, and (having left her in Taipei) reminisce about clutching my new husband on a scooter while we travelled along the fiercely beautiful coastal region near Taitung. I tell New Man that Taiwan is a clean, green city in Asia, that the subways (jieyun) and High Speed Rail (gaotie) are amazing. I get excited about the emerging art scene in Taiwan, the way that ancient and modern cultures are converging to form a new identity.

11356065_843733975706448_1845776398_n (1)

He has been to Hong Kong but never really travelled through Asia; Asia to him is a night at a Thai restaurant eating laksa. (That prompted a whole explanation of Singapore’s nyonya cuisine, and regional differences in Chinese cuisines, which I think again went over his head.)

I tell him I can speak Mandarin. “You clever thing,” he says. He starts sending me sexy messages on Facebook messenger with the help of Google Translate. They make me laugh.

But it is difficult to explain that my brain doesn’t just translate from English into Mandarin, like a tap that I can turn on and off. I might not be a native speaker, but I think, I live, I dream in Chinese. I am often at my happiest prattling on in imperfect Mandarin, so happy to meet Taiwanese Mums on a playdate and to bitch light-heartedly about the frustrations of navigating the Australian dream – many are married to Australian men and experience what I did in reverse. My children’s English is littered with Chinglish phrases. “Mummy, bao bao,” my toddler pleads when he wants a cuddle. My preschooler, who seems to perpetually have his hands in his undies, refers to his genitalia as ‘xiao niaoniao’ and this seems an easier term to use when chiding him about it in public.

In the early days of dating, I had to stop myself from speaking to New Man in Chinese. “Ni xian shuo ba! – you speak first,” I have nearly said on the phone countless times. Chinese was the secret language of courtship and intimacy with my husband, a language I intuitively retreat to when thinking emotively. “Talking about love – tan lian ai’ , is how they refer to this stage of dating someone in Chinese.

I argue best in Chinese. It is only in Mandarin that I feel that I can truly express my anger, my indignation about things, especially injustices right or wrong in my marriage. When I get truly worked up, I make my point more shrilly and cruelly than in English. Perhaps it is best that I am not able to tap into this, as it would probably tear New Man’s soft vulnerability to shreds.

I explain to New Man that I feel uncomfortable when people split bills. (Thankfully that has never come up on a date.) I talk a bit about the importance of face (mianzi), and gloss over the importance of cultivating networks or guanxi. I explain about how I plan to help my kids maintain their Chinese language skills. We take our children out together to a Chinese lantern festival. He likes the lion dance and tells me it is fun but that he doesn’t like yum cha (yuk cha, he calls it).

How to explain the deep yearning within me to return to Asia, how I constantly miss living in Taiwan? How a part of me feels this quest to explore, to discover, to connect with Chinese culture as if I was born into it in a past life? That despite my Caucasian appearance, that I feel a sense of belonging and normalcy when I glance out the taxi window and read glaring neon signs in Chinese? That sometimes I feel lost and lonely just being normal in suburban Canberra? How I am a temple junkie, and pray with unadvisable regularity to Guanyin for relationships, Matsu for safe passage, Guan Gong for courage and wisdom, Cai Shen for money and Wen Chang for a promotion in my public service career? What it truly means to express gan en – appreciation – when you receive your hearts desire? How feng shui matters to my life and defines where and how I live? How my children’s Chinese names were chosen by a fortune teller, and mine has layers of meaning that takes five minutes to explain?

“But you are not even Chinese,” I tell New Man on a picnic date shortly after meeting him, as we discuss how inexplicable that it was that we should have hooked up.

With his blond hair and blue eyes, this is fairly obvious. Nor do I wish he was anything other than what he is. The attraction took me by surprise, powerful and unexpected, making me as giddy as a teenager. He is unaware how very English he is. I went to Beijing rather than do the usual pulling a beer in a pub gap year that many Aussies do and so I know nothing about England, nothing about his culture or the landscape that shaped him. To me, being with him is the new foreign, the new exotic.

And through it I am inventing my new life as a mixed-up scrambled egg, choosing how I want to flavour my omelette.

Serina Huang is a writer, blogger, mother and frugalista. She blogs about Taiwanese culture and food at www.taiwanxifu.com, and about parenting and being frugal at www.weekendparent.co. She is currently working on a book about her experiences of doing Chinese postpartum confinement (zuo yuezi).
—–
Speaking of China is always on the lookout for outstanding guest posts! If you have something you’d like us to feature, visit the submit a post page for details — and then submit yours today.

Did you enjoy this article?
Sign up now and receive an email whenever I publish new blog posts. We respect your privacy. You can unsubscribe at any time.
I agree to have my personal information transfered to MailChimp ( more information )

You might also like:

57 thoughts on “Guest Post: Will I keep my Asian surname? Am I Asian? Am I Western?

  • July 10, 2015 at 8:34 am
    Permalink

    Hi Serina, sorry to hear that your marriage ended after so many years. I’d be keen to read about why your marriage ended and whether cultural differences, a topic Jocelyn wrote about recently perhaps not by coincidence, played a significant role in it.

    And you are of course free to define your own identity any way you like, be that Taiwanese/Chinese or Australian. In fact, in an ideal world we would all be able to do just that without any social constraints. What is important is that you are being authentic and not just appropriating a foreign culture to appear cool or New Age.

    As for whether you should keep your husband’s Chinese surname (assuming it’s a serious question), it’s a more superficial matter but one reason for women keeping their husband’s name after divorce is that it helps to instill in the children a sense of family, a feeling that the family members are still connected.

    Reply
  • July 10, 2015 at 9:17 am
    Permalink

    It some point I may write about why my marriage ended, but it is too raw. It needs the passage of time. There were a lot of communication issues, and yes cultural issues were one. But there were also other more significant factors.

    I still haven’t decided one name to choose. Australia is multicultural (ish!), so it is a bit strange but still okay to have a Chinese surname. But if I live in China later? I worry that I would be forever having to explain that my surname belonged to an ex-husband. That doesn’t worry me too much, but I have noticed that talking about divorce causes Chinese people a lot of embarrassment. People I speak with seem to worry that they have uncovered some deep shame, if that makes sense.

    Reply
  • July 10, 2015 at 10:07 am
    Permalink

    Serina, I live in Taiwan and I just loved the way you described the place to your ‘new man.’ It is nice to see someone [another ‘waiguoren’] appreciate the island just as much as I do.

    Also, I am sorry to hear that your marriage has ended. However, I love the egg analogy you use throughout the article. I hope you find your perfect combination and variation.

    Reply
  • July 10, 2015 at 10:18 am
    Permalink

    Wow this story is so interesting!!

    I never ever heard of this kind of situation where a cross-cultural marriage changed someone so deeply that he/ she feels like she belongs in Asia instead of her home country. Especially considering that they live in Australia for most of the marriage (that’s what I got from the article) so it is not like she lived in Taiwan for 20 years.

    She had the life of a Taiwanese immigrant in her own home country!

    I am on the fence about this: is it good to embrace your husband’s culture up to this point? Is it ever good to allow a relationship to change us so deeply we don’t know our identity anymore?

    I wonder if there is a way to be in a cross-cultural relationship without either partner giving up on his roots, culture and identity. Of course a cross-cultural relationship will bring a degree of change in both people involved (any relationship will do it, for the matter), but up to what point is that healthy?

    Reply
  • July 10, 2015 at 10:42 am
    Permalink

    Loved your post, Serina! Very interesting and heartfelt, too.

    I don’t think you’re western or Asian. I think you are unique, and I hope New Man continues to appreciate you. (I also hope he has a lovely posh accent.)

    Reply
    • July 10, 2015 at 12:01 pm
      Permalink

      I really enjoy the the latest post. It felt watching the british drama for the first half of it. Would you explain to me why the South feel so British?

      The Chinese also have many manners depending on the family.

      Reply
      • July 10, 2015 at 12:15 pm
        Permalink

        Thank you, Dan. You are very kind. I think that a) The original Virginia plantation owners in Virginia were British — King Charles Cavaliers who fled Cromwell during the 1600s, and b) The American South did its best to emulate the British aristocracy and refuses to let go of even the most outdated traditions (notice how the ridiculous debate rages over the Confederate Battle Flag even now).

        But if you head back to my post (sorry, Jocelyn, don’t be mad that I am luring away your commenters!) we can have a whole conversation there about crazy southern etiquette instead of taking up Speaking of China space! And maybe you can explain more about the dearth of “thank you” in Chinese culture. Andy doesn’t seem to care.

        Reply
    • July 10, 2015 at 8:02 pm
      Permalink

      Dear Autumn, no New Man does not have a posh accent at all! He does have an accent (Midlands) and I don’t fully understand it.

      Sadly we are no longer together romantically but are still friends. It breaks my heart, but the timing was not right and there are some significant complications.

      Reply
  • July 10, 2015 at 11:50 am
    Permalink

    I don’t think it is easy to talk about divorce with Chinese people. If you are the one initiated it, it would become even more shameful for the man. But it is your life to choose. I guess the biggest problem is how the divorce will impact the children.

    I don’t see you becoming so Chinese is healthy unless you are the one who made the choice. It did not appear so entirely.

    One reason to change your last name is to help move on with your life. I know many women choose to keep the maiden name after they remarry.

    Your post made me think if I could ever go back to date a Chinese girl again.
    I am pretty sure you will regain much of your previous identity when you do not live in the Chinese life anymore. I am sure you want to keep part of it because it has shaped who you are now.

    Reply
    • July 10, 2015 at 8:06 pm
      Permalink

      Hi Dan,

      You are correct – I am finding that people feel very embarrassed if they ask and I then tell them I am separated and soon to be divorced. I am okay about it, but I can tell that they feel so awkward. I have been very conscious of ‘face’ issues, and that is why up until now I have never written about my separation. But it has been eleven months now so I think it is about time! It is also getting fairly obvious.

      Did I make the choice to become Chinese? In some ways yes, in some ways no. Being a Taiwan Xifu has a lot of responsibilities attached with it, as being a Yang Xifu in China does. You marry ‘into’ the culture, and I found that there was very little understanding or allowances for my own culture as the expectation was that I fit in with their family culture and priorities. In some way my new life is very liberating. But there are also a lot of things that I miss, including the connection with the local Chinese community (still there, but just not quite as strong).

      Reply
  • July 10, 2015 at 2:07 pm
    Permalink

    Constance, I miss Taiwan so much. So many things. I am sure it has changed in many ways in the 18 months since I was last there.

    Marghini, it wasn’t a conscious decision to ‘become’ Taiwanese to please my husband. I was always a sinophile: we met because he was my Chinese language partner. I had studied in China before I met him and met him when I was planning to study in Taiwan for a further year. I was already fascinated by Chinese/Taiwanese culture. But being married ‘into’ the culture meant there were quite a few expectations I could not readily opt out of. Perhaps if i didn’t speak Chinese I could pretend I didn’t understand, but when you do understand there is more focus on fitting in. I am enjoying rediscovering what is important to me – perhaps not really so different to anyone else who has left a marriage or long term relationship?

    Reply
  • July 10, 2015 at 3:11 pm
    Permalink

    Wow, I’m not even sure what to say. It seems like there are so many different levels to this post and much more to the story I wish I could hear about (although I realize it’s really none of my business).

    I have never felt the passion some foreigners have for Asia (specifically Mandarin and Chinese culture). I sometimes wish I had it. Don’t get me wrong, I find it all very interesting, but no more interesting than any culture or language. At the end of the day, I love nothing more than to fall into the comfort of an English-language novel or TV show. I clutch my western culture closely and sometimes (though ashamed to admit it) am defensive when situations arise in which I’m suppose to let that part of me go.

    I suppose having such a deep connection with another culture can be deeply rewarding yet also create some identity issues. We are all suppose to fit into others preconceived notions, so it’s perhaps very confusing to be an egg. White people don’t understand the inner yellowness.

    Reply
    • July 10, 2015 at 8:10 pm
      Permalink

      Yes, there is more to this story but I want to focus on the positives and my own identity journey. I feel that I have learnt and benefited so much from the cross-cultural experience, but yes there are aspects that are not always easy.

      Reply
  • July 10, 2015 at 3:41 pm
    Permalink

    I just read the article and the comments. It sounds to me you recognize that you are made of “white and yellow” parts, and that now you are divorced, you are wondering if divorcing your husband means divorcing those parts that defined you for so long.

    Reading comments that ponder if it was okay for you to “become so Taiwanese” or “losing identity” because of your husband’s culture being so different from your own, I feel like that is a narrow manner of thinking about your situation. After seventeen years, Taiwanese culture became your culture. It is part of your identity, unless you felt lost in it in the first place, but it doesn’t seem you were.

    You should continue to embrace the things that you love about Taiwanese culture. Please don’t feel obligated to reason for it either, it is yours, it is your children’s, and to separate the yolk I think would be more confusing for your identity. If we have roots, then we are like trees, and growing outward and flourishing is better than declining.

    As for your name, I think it may be a good idea to keep it, at least until you have a compelling reason or urge to change it. For now it represents not just your ex-husband, but the lifestyle you adopted as your own as well as the culture you want to keep thriving within your children’s lives. So I say don’t change it unless you have a definitive urge to do so.

    I wish you luck and strength as you overcome this and pray you find a supportive path that represents all the parts of your identity.

    Reply
    • July 10, 2015 at 4:08 pm
      Permalink

      Hey, that’s a really cool comment!

      Reply
    • July 10, 2015 at 8:11 pm
      Permalink

      Many thanks. I’m not actually ‘divorced’ yet (shock, horror, dating again without yet being divorced! I didn’t see that one coming!) Appreciate the advice on my name. I especially like my Chinese name and want to keep it. Weirdly enough, I have two Chinese surnames – Huang (Yellow) and Bai (White). Quite fitting for me!

      Reply
  • July 10, 2015 at 5:42 pm
    Permalink

    This article was exactly what I needed to hear.

    I’m American and lived and worked in China and the UK, before marrying a Polish man and ending up in Australia. We now have to move Australian cities every few years. I always studied Asian languages and worked with Asian students in the UK, but recently I felt like that part of me was slipping away. Not that Australia doesn’t have loads of language and cultural events, but because now I’m at that point where we’re thinking of having children and I know it won’t be as easy for me to pop by Shanghai, or perhaps even to have employment. My series of visas in Australia meant I had to drop my Chinese class last year (study limited to 4 months) and struggle to work this year.

    Also, we were in Darwin.

    Your descriptions have inspired me to make more of an effort to make friends here and to sign up for a Chinese class. You see, I kept putting it off in case I was offered a job, but in the end I’ve been here in Brisbane seven months and not only do I not have a job offer, I also haven’t really made any new friends. Perhaps it felt like studying abroad, travel and language classes were best for people in their 20s, but somehow selfish in my 30s. Especially when money is tight! I love how you described watching the television shows, listening to music, cooking with friends and celebrating holidays. I think many women struggle with their identity after marriage and children, especially if you relocate overseas for your partner. I know my own holidays and holiday foods have so far been utterly defeated by my in-laws Polish cuisine and traditions.

    It’s wonderful that you were able to keep that part of yourself going and integrate it into your daily life in Australia.

    Reply
    • July 10, 2015 at 8:13 pm
      Permalink

      Amanda, so lovely to read about your travels and your own cultural journey. There is a big Chinese (and especially Taiwanese) community in Brisbane. I am sure you will make new friends and enjoy connecting again with the Chinese community there.

      Reply
      • August 24, 2015 at 10:05 am
        Permalink

        Hi, I just wanted to come back to this to say that things are loads better now – I ended up putting an ad on Gumtree for Chinese speaking female friends and aside from language exchange, it’s been great to sightsee and celebrate holidays together. The best part is that some of them were also on bridging visas or looking for work, so we’ve been really able to support each other after relocating to Australia. Coming to terms with a new identity can be really tough!

        Reply
  • Pingback:Scrambled Egg | Taiwanxifu 台灣媳婦

  • July 10, 2015 at 8:12 pm
    Permalink

    I can totally relate, Serina! I’m so glad you’re still keeping that part of your life and don’t feel like you have to give up Chinese culture just because you’re divorced. I’ve done the same thing. As for your name, just do what you feel is best. Your kids have the surname Huang, so you could keep it because people will still call you Mrs. Huang when they know your kids’ surname. I’m still called Mrs. X at Jake’s school even though I went back to my maiden name after my divorce, then hyphenated when I remarried. I’m not sure I would use the hyphen if I had to redo it. Who knows. But you could add your maiden name before Huang if you wanted to. Congratulations on the new guy!

    Reply
    • July 10, 2015 at 8:17 pm
      Permalink

      Susan, having read your book, I knew you would relate. Actually your book inspired me to make big changes – in a positive way.

      New guy and I are sadly no longer together. Long story. Complicated. Wrong timing. He is totally amazing, a yuanfen connection that hit me unexpectedly, wish I could find a way to make things work.

      Reply
      • July 11, 2015 at 10:53 am
        Permalink

        I’m so sorry about new guy, but don’t worry. You never know what will happen in the future. Timing is key, but that could work out later on. Or it could happen with someone else. Don’t worry and you’ll be fine.

        Wow, I’m so touched that you found my book to be helpful. And I’m happy to hear that you’re happy now!

        Reply
  • July 10, 2015 at 8:28 pm
    Permalink

    I’m sorry to hear your marriage ended, Serina. It looks like you’re making the best of the situation and learning and getting on with life which is good to see.

    I have noticed that it really depends on the family regarding whether a foreign daughter-in-law (or son-in-law) is expected to “fit in” with Chinese or Taiwanese culture (not the same thing if you ask me) entirely, to the detriment of their own cultural upbringing, or whether allowances are made. In a lot of families I could see it happening as you describe, an expectation that you’d fulfill all the expected ‘xifu’ roles. But surely in other families attitudes like “well, he/she’s a foreigner, I can’t really expect this of him/her.”

    Which I admit is hard for me to see in an unbiased way, as I see a lot of the expectations of a xifu to be deeply sexist. I know, I know, respect for all cultures, we do things differently but these ways are not objectively better or worse. I know. But still deep down somewhere the whole “and the xifu should cook for everyone while her husband, my precious son, rests and chats with family, and she should care for us in her old age, and she should do as we say and have grandchildren when we say she should and raise them the way we say and her husband, our precious son, should side with US and not HER or the whole family will blame him, and consequently her for changing him” just…rankles. And not every family does this, I know, and not every son puts up with it. It feels super sexist to me, though. Not only do I not think I could accept it, well, you’re a better person than I because you were able to put up with some version of it.

    I think a lot of Taiwanese women are waking up to how sexist it is, too, which is one reason why many are choosing not to marry. They don’t want to be xifu in that way.

    Reply
  • July 10, 2015 at 8:35 pm
    Permalink

    I think what Miyagi Mermaide says has some merit in it , however from reading the above article it suggests that the whole “household existence”, it’s daily life, daily activities etc (from the moment Serina met her future mother in-law) emersed itself in the Taiwanese culture and it ( household) was always going to be a Taiwanese culture. Serina took on the role of Xifu and it sounds like she happily and willingly made the effort to ensure all things were ” Taiwanese” ( sorry not sure if this is the correct terminology to use) not only because she was marrying into a Taiwanese family but also because she love the culture itself .

    However it would be interesting to know if Sarina’s ex husband or any of his family members embraced any aspects of Sarina’s Australian “culture”, many muti cultural homes I believe try to embrace cultural aspects of both countries.

    To an extent it’s similar to adopting an overseas child, e.g adopting a Chinese child into an American household and raising the child as an American without teaching them about any aspects of their Chinese culture or heritage. The child will grow up to be American and they will acknowledge themselves as an American but l’m sure at a particular stage in their life they too will be asking similar questions as Sarina e.g Who am I? Where do I fit in? Should I embrace just my Americanism or try to embrace and understand the Chinese culture?

    Sarina I think it’s great that you can call your self “multi cultural” ( Australian, Taiwanese and now British!) and that you are able to experience a wide variety of things that each culture can bring such as Kareoke singing feast on a Friday night, BBQ and a glass of Chardy on Saturday, Fish and chips with a pint or two on a Sunday .

    No need to question just be what is most comfortable for you right now, and maybe further along in life it may change again and you may morph into something else ;).

    P.S . May l ask in regards to your Children what culture have they grown up with/ embraced/ associate with/ feel more comfortable with and do they question it?

    Reply
  • July 10, 2015 at 8:40 pm
    Permalink

    Hi Jenna, good to hear from you – hao jiu bu jian!

    Things for me never did get to the getting up at 5.00am to be a good xifu and cook everyone breakfast stage. And I didn’t live with MIL; she did stay with us for two months and it was a very long two months. I did, however, learn to carefully stage manage visits. There was always her favourite five -grain rice blend cooked in the rice cooker, her choice vegetarian food around ‘just in case’, and nutritious food for my children to show I was a good mother.

    I think half of the problem was that in Taiwan I was the career mother: we had a lovely Filipino carer who did most of the domestic stuff and hubby was a stay-at-home-dad. This really rankled with her sense of who *should* be doing what. Not that I didn’t do a lot of caring for my children though, just different, and much less hands on as I wanted my children to grow up to be resilient and independent. Ah, I don’t really intend to gripe too much but yes there was a mismatch/miscommunication of presumed xifu roles I think. My Taiwanese female friends taught me a lot about how not to rock the boat, and sometimes I would listen but not always:)

    Reply
    • July 10, 2015 at 9:29 pm
      Permalink

      Your comment here got a chuckle out of me. It sounds like you played your role as xifu with skill and aplomb, just the way a Taiwanese woman typically would. Your MIL actually sounds like one of those old-school MILs, and the Taiwanese women I know tend to have a more laissez faire attitude with regard to expectations of their (prospective) daughters-in-law.

      Reply
      • July 16, 2015 at 11:59 am
        Permalink

        Ha ha, yes, MIL was a bit old school. She lives in Australia. Sometimes overseas communities live in a bit of a micro-bubble. She actually dislikes her other DIL much more, partly because she is Taiwanese.

        Reply
  • July 11, 2015 at 10:32 pm
    Permalink

    Dear Serina,
    Thanks for sharing your personal story. I love Chinese language and culture as well, so I relate to you so much. Some of my friends tell me I have a chinese soul, which makes me chuckle a bit because I am so American, but I guess I just have a similar thinking style. I am also close to you in age and this year will have my 20th anniversary with my husband. I am not in a multi-cultural marriage and I am surrounded by marriages, multi-cultural and not, that have lasted or ended in divorce. Throughout your blog posts I feel that based on some of the things you shared that you basically were not treated very well and appreciated for who you are. Due to your love of Chinese culture you probably would have enjoyed doing these things anyway but you were taken for granted. You seem like a wonderful person and probably would have been just fine taking care of a mother in law in her old age, but it just sounds like you had a lot of demanding people who really didn’t know how special and unique a person you were. Honestly, it’s really their loss. I also know that you will still have to deal with ongoing issues in co-parenting which will be challenging. After putting 20 years in a relationship along with all the trials and tribulations of bearing children/raising children we feel rather old you still look so young and are so young in the scheme of things. I have known many of my friends to have very happy second or(yikes! I know) a third marriage. I hope you get some good time to take care of yourself and grieve the loss of something you put some amazing energy into. I would concur with some of the people who are saying to wait on changing your name..especially as you are feeling somewhat conflicted..as a teacher it is immediately noticeable that a child comes from a divorced home when you see the last names are different and also somewhat confusing to keep track of who the kids belong to sometimes…Take care….

    Reply
    • July 16, 2015 at 12:01 pm
      Permalink

      Dear Cassandra,

      Congratulations on your 20 year wedding anniversary. Wow, when I read your comment I couldn’t believe you picked up on so much re appreciation. Such lovely comments. Thank you.

      I also appreciated the comments re the affect of a changed surname on children. Something for me to keep in mind.

      Reply
  • July 12, 2015 at 12:48 am
    Permalink

    Now, I don’t know Serina personally so I’m not saying that this necessarily is what happened to her, but this should serve as a warning to all of us in the AM/WF community. It is great to be proud of an interracial relationship and be interested in your husband’s culture, but you should careful that being a wife and your husband’s heritage doesn’t serve as your ONLY identity, in case it all falls apart.

    The same thing would also be true of the military wives community…be proud of the military and support your husband, but make sure that you are more than your husband’s job.

    Reply
    • July 16, 2015 at 12:03 pm
      Permalink

      A good point! I definitely do have other identities, and I am happy that the Taiwanese community here still includes me. But I did worry for a while if by divorcing my husband I would be totally cut off from that other identity. I have lost parts of it, but thankfully not all. And yes, definitely a good warning as you never know where life will take you.

      Reply
  • July 12, 2015 at 1:24 am
    Permalink

    My sympathy is with you.
    Divorce is tough even if there are no cultural issues involved.

    Don’t look on this as having to make a choice on this NOW, as I am sure eventually choices and actions will make sense at the right time.
    Focus on finding your new identity: your name is only a label for who you are, it does not define you as a person.

    Good luck !

    Reply
  • July 13, 2015 at 2:31 am
    Permalink

    Dear Serina,

    I am sorry to read about your divorce. I am happy to read that you have a new man in your life though. Keep up the greatness.

    Reply
    • July 16, 2015 at 12:04 pm
      Permalink

      Dear Fred,

      Sadly New Man and I are not together romantically any more. But we are still friends. I was brave and decided to catch up with him this morning for a cup of tea. Oh, I could hardly look at him he made my heart race so fast! There are sadly complications there and he needs time.

      Reply
      • July 16, 2015 at 4:01 pm
        Permalink

        Dear Serina,

        I am so sorry to read that you and Mr. New Man are no longer together romantically but have chosen to stay friends. I wish you all the best in finding yourself another man. If you ever find yourself in the U.S. in Southern California, I will for certain try to apply my matchmaking skills and help you find an American man as I have many single male friends here as well. I tried to help my fellow male Chinese cousin in H.K. by trying to set him up with 4 white American girls but to no avail though. You can read about it here:
        http://www.speakingofchina.com/double-happiness/setting-up-chinese-nephew-american-women/#.VadkDo5RGxs.

        So, what do you say, girl? Please remember California boys are world renowned for their abilities to romance their women. Take care

        Fred

        Reply
        • July 16, 2015 at 6:49 pm
          Permalink

          Hi Fred,

          You’re certainly a man of talents. Law school has probably given you the edge.

          I don’t know anything about Californian guys. I once dated a Caucasian guy from Milwaukee but he has been living in Manhattan for a very long time. Boy, Mr C carried my handbag and the shopping! He was a big guy, I couldn’t say no. Mr C was generous, too but no open cheque book, mind you.

          I’m not an English Rose in the true sense. I’ve been told I’m very British???? If you ever thought of setting up a dating agency on the other side of the pond, I will sure look it up.

          Reply
        • July 16, 2015 at 7:58 pm
          Permalink

          Dear Fred,

          I just loved your blog post. And the story of you posing for a picture with your wife! My ex-husband was also undemonstrative in public, as many Taiwanese are. Go you!

          I sadly don’t have plans to travel to California, but if you know if any Chinese (or other) Californian gentlemen interested in Australia, please do think of me.

          Best wishes,

          Serina

          Reply
          • July 19, 2015 at 6:07 am
            Permalink

            @ Serina and @ Traveller.

            I am glad that you appreciated my matchmaking talent albeit it was not successful for my cousin yew. Did you know that I tried to help him once more? Here is the link:

            http://www.speakingofchina.com/guest-posts/guest-post-setting-chinese-nephew-american-women/

            I will be more than happy to introduce you to a fine American gentleman who is an attorney (i.e., barrister and solicitor in Britain and Australia). He is in his 40’s, never married, tall, white with blue eyes and brown hair. He is a well-to-do man. If you are interested I can ask him and then give you his email and vice versa. Please advise.

          • July 19, 2015 at 11:58 am
            Permalink

            Hi Serina,

            You are truly a brave woman for accepting this invitation. I will first talk to my friend Jim (whose last name I will withhold for now) first and then if he is interested, I will give his last name and then disseminate his contact information to you. How does this sound? So, don’t go away and stay tuned…..

  • July 15, 2015 at 4:11 am
    Permalink

    Hi Serina,

    Wow, this was such a moving story and I loved the comparision with an egg. Personally I think we all take to different cultures in different measures. I lived in the US for 3 years and yet I feel like I took a lot of aspects of that culture that would make me sound “american”. Yet I am not. In the almost decade that I have lived away from my home country, I have developed attachments to and imbibed the cultures I stayed in.

    I think this is very normal. The fact that you became “taiwan xifu” means that you loved your husband enough to be vulnerable to all aspects of him, including his culture. That and you loved China and Taiwan enough to let those cultures subtly change different aspects of your life.

    My comparision of living abroad may not be anything compared to 17 years of matrimony, but I think my point is that the beauty of opening yourself to different cultures is that you truly experience how big the world is. However once you have opened your heart to the world, you will never be home in just one place. That is the bittersweet experience of falling in love with a culture (not a person, that can be separate to some extent).

    i think once some time has passed and you have a chance to get some closure with your marriage, these aspects of asian culture will be what makes you different. It will give you a perspective that is broader than the limited perspective that comes with belonging to only one culture.

    I wish you all the best in your life and journey and I am sure you will find yourself in Asia again if you want to. As for the name, I think that is a decision you should take solely based on how you feel about it. You shouldnt worry about the face-saving chinese conversations thing. As much as I agree with respecting another culture, I personally wouldn’t accomodate something I disagreed with. I think often times the western women here forget that each western country also has a distinct culture. And just like they should respect their asian partners culture, the asian partner is required to respect their culture. This also stands true in non romantic intercultural interactions.

    For me, I try not to disrespect another culture, however if they say something that bothers me due to mine, I make that clear too. Respect should always be a two way street.

    Reply
    • July 16, 2015 at 12:05 pm
      Permalink

      Thank you – really lovely sentiments. I appreciate you sharing so much.

      Reply
  • July 19, 2015 at 6:12 am
    Permalink

    So, Matchmaker Fred…you have any lovely gentlemen in their 50s-60s on the East Coast? (Asking for an Ex-stepmother. Or two.) 🙂

    Reply
    • July 19, 2015 at 12:01 pm
      Permalink

      Hi Autumn,

      I do not have any men in your requested age group in the East Coast. I have then in the West Coast only. Do you need help? I can start my search for you. Please advise.

      Reply
      • July 19, 2015 at 12:08 pm
        Permalink

        Alas, Fred, my family is all on the East Coast. But thanks anyway. You are very sweet.

        Reply
  • July 19, 2015 at 3:28 pm
    Permalink

    Yes please, Fred. Thank you.

    I lost out to opportunities in the past
    I was stuck in my comfort zone
    Afraid of the unknown

    I, too have lived abroad, not too long ago, where I took the road less travelled by, to an ultra conservative corner of the Arab world. It was my first overseas posting, most people viewed it as the ultimate hardship post; the restrictions pertaining to dress and demeanour and the lack of public entertainments. A reluctant commitment, it was not. I knew what I had let myself in for as I signed along the dotted lines, so I thought.

    The Journey started with a Call to Adventure on account that I had completed all the challenges within my remit whilst I was washed-up on this island, many moons ago.

    The challenges abounded in Life Behind the Wall, the compound. Never had I been challenged on all levels. Here, the night did not walk with the stars trailing behind, the moon with its bright light was my comfort blanket. The rain, when it arrived was warmly welcomed.

    Life Behind the Wall during the Eid holiday was very quiet. Sitting by the pool one sunny day, the soundlessness finally hit me; my whole world came crushing down around me.

    I walk a lonely road
    The only one that I have ever known
    Don’t know where it goes
    But it’s home to me and I walk alone

    Green Day – I Walk Alone Lyrics | MetroLyrics

    To survive, I had to change my mindset.

    The positive experiences have left me forever changed. It has opened my heart and mind to many things.

    I may not have gone where I intended to go but I think I have ended up where I
    intended to be.

    Douglas Adams

    Reply
  • July 20, 2015 at 2:29 am
    Permalink

    @ Traveller At Heart.

    You are such a romatic at heart based on the above poem. Had I not been married, I just might propose to take you out on date. I presume you are British. Am I correct? I heard that British girls are prim and proper in their outward appearance, but once the bedroom door closes, her naughtiness comes out with such impetus that few men can rise to meet her challenge. I don’t know if this statement is true or not as I have never been graced with the chance to date a British damsel, but I only heard it from other boys in sunny California who have been to Britain and have returned to tell their stories to the other boys like myself. Perhpas you can verify it for me.

    Anyhow, I will relay to my friend Jim about both you and Serina. Then I will see what he says. Who knows, but both you and Serian could be in love with my friend and he can choose one of you or both of you or none of you. I will contact him soon to see what he says.

    Remember, if things start between you and him, it will be a lond distance love affair.

    Fred

    Take care.

    Reply
  • July 20, 2015 at 3:43 am
    Permalink

    Fred the matchmaker,

    No home grown talent, so many air miles!

    Your world at a glance

    To make a difference in this world there is a place to start.
    There’s many things that you can do and it starts within your heart.
    You take a look within yourself and ask “What can I do
    To make this world a better place for me and also you?”
    You start by being kinder or maybe more polite
    To a friend or neighbour, now that would be just right.

    Marilyn M. Linford

    Reply
  • July 20, 2015 at 11:15 am
    Permalink

    “I presume you are British. Am I correct? I heard that British girls are prim and proper in their outward appearance, but once the bedroom door closes, her naughtiness comes out with such impetus that few men can rise to meet her challenge.”

    …wait, nobody else is creeped out by this at all?

    Reply
    • July 20, 2015 at 12:39 pm
      Permalink

      @ Jenna,

      “…wait, nobody else is creeped out by this at all?”

      I am trying to keep things dignified. The beauty of romance is the careful choice and use of elegant words to achieve deep meaning without sounding like a prurient maniac by leaving the reader to search his/her imagination. All the best to you.

      Reply
  • July 20, 2015 at 12:53 pm
    Permalink

    …then you failed.

    Because that was a super creepy, stereotyping and objectifying thing to say in my opinion.

    Reply
  • July 20, 2015 at 2:29 pm
    Permalink

    Fred,

    It seems that Jim potentially has two women fighting over him.

    As to English women, well I am not English so I can’t comment. And I was dating an Englishman, and for other reasons I won’t comment. He made me giddy. Enough said.

    Reply
  • July 21, 2015 at 3:56 pm
    Permalink

    @ Serina,

    I received your email address today via Jocelyn acting as the intermediary. I then sent you in my email a link to Jim’s website where you can see his professional profile and also his picture. Did you receive my email along with the link? What do you think?

    @ Traveller aka Marilyn Linford. I am waiting for you to send your email address to Jocelyn who will then forward it to me so that I can give you Jim’s information.

    Who knows, but perhaps neither of you will like him or only one of you will end up pursing the matter.

    All the best to both of you and Jim.

    Reply
  • July 21, 2015 at 4:16 pm
    Permalink

    Dear Fred,

    Many thanks for your email. I did in fact reply … did you not receive my email? If so, perhaps you might want to drop me an email to make sure it is working.

    This has been the most interactive blog post I think I have ever written, ha ha ha!

    Reply
  • July 25, 2015 at 3:43 pm
    Permalink

    I can’t even read all of the story. I am a Chinese man for main land. It is 21Cn, I can’t handle this kind of life allready.
    Now I need to calm down and read the rest of this story.

    Reply
  • Pingback:2016 Blogs by Western Women Who Love Chinese Men | Speaking of China

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.