American writer Nicki Chen, who blogs at Behind the Story, has lived one fascinating life. She married her late husband Eugene (who grew up in China) in 1967, the same year that the US Supreme Court made interracial marriages like theirs legal in every state in the country. Nicki also spent 15 years in the Philippines with her family as an “expat wife” and traveled to China in the 1980s. It’s no wonder, then, that her experiences have inspired much of her writing and blogging.
In this guest post, she writes, “Before I decided to marry my husband, I remember thinking: We complement each other, and that’s a good thing. We had a lot in common, too, enough to make our marriage work. But the fact that we were so dissimilar meant we had a lot to learn from each other.” I could have easily written the same about my own marriage. Chances are, many of you will relate to the “whole new world” Nicki captures in her post.
Bruce Lee vs. Mary Poppins
My first martial arts movie was The Big Boss starring Bruce Lee. It was 1971. We’d recently moved to the Philippines, and though Bruce Lee was already well known for his role as Kato in The Green Hornet, I’d never heard of him. My taste in movies ran in a different direction. I’d seen every musical that came to the Dream Theater in my hometown: Oklahoma, South Pacific, West Side Story, My Fair Lady, The King and I, The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins, Camelot … I’d seen them all and memorized most of the songs. What did I know about kung fu movies?
My husband was Chinese however. In his childhood, while I was in the United States reading fairy tales and Little Women and Little House on the Prairie, he was in China living under occupation and reading Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which is not a romance at all. It’s a four volume Chinese classic written in the fourteenth century, a non-stop account of the historical and fabled battles and intrigues that took place between 169 AD and 280 AD when three kingdoms were struggling for dominance in China.
Pompoms and judo
In our teenage years, while I was taking ballroom dancing classes and shaking pompoms at basketball games, my future husband was in Japan, studying judo and kendo after school.
So now, here I was, expanding my horizons as I accompanied my husband to the little theater in Binondo, Manila’s Chinatown. The Hong Kong version of The Big Boss was definitely more violent than I was used to. It showed, for example, Bruce Lee’s fingers piercing the rib cage of the villain, a scene that was partially cut to get an R rating in the United States. And yet, Lee was a sympathetic hero. And though the evening was punctuated with the sound of our fellow moviegoers cracking melon seeds between their teeth and throwing them on the floor, the movie intrigued me. I could conceive of liking martial arts movies.
Enter the Dragon
The following year Fist of Fury and The Way of the Dragon came out. I liked them … and sometimes I didn’t. In 1973 we saw Enter the Dragon, Bruce Lee’s last movie before his tragic death. This time it was playing in the big modern theater in Makati. We brought our oldest daughter, who was five years old by then, old enough we thought to be introduced to a kung fu movie.
I suppose I’ll never be the biggest fan of martial arts movies. I still prefer a film in which dialog and meaning trump violent action. And yet, I have to admit, a good fighting scene is a pleasure to watch. I’m glad my husband helped me expand my horizons.
The Promise of an Interracial Relationship
Before I decided to marry my husband, I remember thinking: We complement each other, and that’s a good thing. We had a lot in common, too, enough to make our marriage work. But the fact that we were so dissimilar meant we had a lot to learn from each other.
Every relationship provides opportunities to learn and grow, to share ideas and enthusiasms, hobbies and histories. But in an intercultural or interracial relationship, those opportunities are enormous. If both people are open to new ideas and experiences, their worlds can double in size.
Nicki Chen blogs at Behind the Story and is the author of the forthcoming novel Tiger Tail Soup.
We’re looking for a few good stories from Chinese men and Western women in love — or out of love — to share on Fridays. Submit your original story or a published blog post today.