If you asked me to name some of the most transformative experiences in my life, my post-graduation “detour” to China and, later, marriage to my Chinese husband would rank among them. This blog has been largely inspired by the push and pull of my own cross-cultural relationship and adopted home in China, leading to a plethora of posts that stand as a testament to the many moments, from embarrassing to exquisite, worth pondering when you love and live a little differently.
But imagine embarking on this adventure in your mid-40s, as a grandmother.
That’s the unique lens that Heather Diamond brings to her new memoir Rabbit in the Moon, which follows how her cross-cultural marriage to a Hong Kong man and eventual moves (to Hawaii and later Hong Kong) which both challenged and changed her in the middle of life.
Her experiences, detailed in lyrical prose, deeply resonated with me. But even if you’ve never loved someone across cultures or borders, there’s much to cherish in Heather’s tale of starting all over and learning to embrace a whole new way of living in her mid-40s, proving it’s never too late to reinvent yourself. At the same time, the story immerses you in a corner of Hong Kong few travelers and even locals have visited, making it ideal for armchair travelers.
It’s my pleasure and honor to introduce you to Heather Diamond and her new memoir Rabbit in the Moon through this interview.
Here is Heather’s bio from Amazon:
Heather Diamond is an American writer living in Hong Kong. Her first memoir, Rabbit in the Moon: A Memoir, will be released by Camphor Press in May 2021. She is the author of American Aloha: Cultural Tourism and the Negotiation of Tradition, and her essays have appeared in (Her)oics: Women’s Lived Experiences of the Pandemic, Memoir Magazine, Sky Island Journal, Waterwheel Review, Rappahannock Review, Hong Kong Review, and New South Journal.
Can you tell us what inspired you to write this memoir?
Even before the current wave of anti-Asian violence in American, my central reason for writing was to share how being in an intercultural relationship and living in Hawaii and Hong Kong have changed my worldview. In the US, I taught multicultural literature and multiculturalism for years before I went to Asia, but being immersed in an international dormitory in Hawaii and a Chinese family in Hong Kong forced me to own up to my personal and cultural assumptions. When I went back to the US, I realized not everyone has the opportunity to see their culture from the outside by living in a space or country where you are not in the majority. If everyone had that experience, maybe we could all learn how to get along with each other.
What’s the story behind the title?
On the surface, it is a reference to the Chinese legend about Chang’e, the moon goddess, and the magical rabbit that assists her by pounding the elixir of immortality. It is also a reference to a scene in the book when my husband-to-be points to the full moon and asks if I can see the rabbit. When I tell him that all I can see is a man in the moon, he laughs and says you have to have Chinese eyes to see the rabbit. Ultimately, the title is a metaphor because the whole book is about my learning to see the world with Chinese eyes. We played with that idea for the cover by creating what looks like a traditional Chinese paper cut of a moon with rabbits and adding Hong Kong’s bauhinia blossoms alongside Hawaii monster leaves.
You first met your husband, who is from Hong Kong, when you were in your forties with a granddaughter. Could you talk about what it was like to be flirting with a cross-cultural relationship at that age?
My concept of age is relative because I’ve lived much of my life out of synch with my peers. I married the first time at eighteen, had my daughter at twenty, earned my BFA at thirty and my MA at forty. Being in midlife when I fell in love with my husband was exciting and made me feel young, but it also meant we both had a lot more to lose by making radical changes in our lives. I gave up a marriage and a house. I moved into an international dormitory with students half my age and became a student when I was used to being a teacher. It was disorienting and humbling to start over at everything, love included, in the middle of my life.
Your husband plays a leading role in this memoir, and so does his family in Hong Kong. How did he feel about you writing this memoir, and in what ways did he support your endeavors?
Probably nobody in their right mind would choose to live with or be related to a memoirist. Who wants to wonder if anything you say might be quoted to the world? That said, my husband has been totally supportive of my writing even when he might have chosen to keep some things about our life private. He has also helped me with the material in countless ways: translating, answering endless questions about Chinese culture, and pushing me to see beyond stereotypes. We’re both ethnographers and he’s just as interested in traditions as I am, so we always enhance each other’s view.
Your memoir explores the culture shock you felt in becoming part of your husband’s family. Do you have a certain memory that stands out as a culture shock story you’ve often told to others?
Many of the scenes in the book started as anecdotes I told to friends before I ever considered writing them down. One of those friends told me to write down the story that I tell in the book’s prologue where I insisted on getting a jade bracelet on my first trip to Hong Kong. I thought it would be a romantic gift, but my future mother-in-law took over the shopping and paid for the bracelet. I was so flustered, I didn’t realize the bracelet would be permanent until after it was jammed onto my wrist.
What do you think makes Cheung Chau such a fascinating place?
Day trippers from Hong Kong go to Cheung Chau for seafood, the beach, and the annual Bun Festival. They enjoy the village environment because it is so different from the high rise glitz and tangle of Hong Kong Island. The pace is slower and the air is fresher, and behind the scenes many traditions are still observed that are no longer part of urban life. Of course, even those are changing, but for now it is still possible to witness religious and cultural practices on Cheung Chau that have been abandoned as the younger generation becomes more modernized and focused on material things.
Could you share with us what you hope readers will take away from your memoir?
That’s a big question! I hope readers considering reinvention will realize that it’s never too late to change your life. I hope that readers in or contemplating being in an intercultural relationship will take away a survival tool or two. For example, I discovered that learning to laugh at myself—something I always resisted—was the only way I was going to weather the challenges of being so far outside my comfort zone. Sometimes being free entertainment is a good place to start. Ultimately, I hope readers will think about what we can learn when we get out of our own way and allow ourselves to be beginners in someone else’s culture.
Many thanks to Heather for this interview! You can learn more about Heather and follow her writing at her website HeatherDiamondWriter.com. The memoir Rabbit in the Moon is available at Amazon, where your purchases help support this blog.