Sharing the Sweetness and the Sorrows

A couple of two bears, comforting each other in time of pain
In Chinese, they call it tónggāngòngkǔ (同甘共苦), sharing the sweetness and the sorrows, something my Chinese husband and I know well after his recent misfortune. (photo by Aleksandra P.)

“I just, you know, can’t take this any more,” I said, trailing off into tears in that office, as the advisor passed me a box of kleenex.

“This situation has been very hard on my wife too,” my husband said, referring to what happened over two weeks ago. Technically, it happened to him — but not according to my tears.

These past couple of weeks, we’ve knocked on doors together, even if John did the talking. We’ve discussed next steps, even though John will have to take them alone. We’ve held each other in the dark, and taken turns crying in offices.

In Chinese, they call it tónggāngòngkǔ (同甘共苦), sharing the sweetness and the sorrows, as well as tóngzhōugòngjì (同舟共济), the Chinese version of “we’re in the same boat.” In practice, we know the words all too well. We’ve weathered my sudden job loss and Chinese visa problems, his US visa denial, separation when my company sent me to Taiwan, and months of transitioning to life in the US. We’ve always shared everything in life, and now we share again, even if we wish it weren’t so.

But the other day, I smiled after John repeated the words tónggāngòngkǔ like our daily mantra. “Maybe this trouble isn’t so bad after all,” I said. “Because our relationship isn’t the trouble, it’s our strength.”

What do the ideas of tónggāngòngkǔ and tóngzhōugòngjì mean to you? How have you experienced them as a couple or a family?

30 Replies to “Sharing the Sweetness and the Sorrows”

  1. My grandfather was hospitalized two months ago (he’s doing much better now, knock on wood,) and unfortunately it showed me a negative side of a Korean guy that I thought I was in love with. I had hoped he’d call or something and ask how my grandfather is doing, but no words or calls are forthcoming. My friend of five years also lacks the politeness gene in asking about my grandfather.

    I guess looking back now, whenever I was in a bad mood or my Korean lover for that matter, he always dropped me off at my parents because he didn’t want to deal with mine emotions. I think he might have shared his troubles with me, but I felt too scared to tell him of mine.

  2. Thank you for sharing. I think the hardest thing for us was dealing through watching our little son being in a humidicrib. He was born over two months’ early. At first he was stable, but then he developed an infection. We spent an awful night by his crib watching his blood pressure dip dangerously low. Thankfully, he is now a healthy (and active) two-year old toddler. A bit too active today: he hit his head and now has a nasty bruise on his cheek — looks terrible, but he just said ‘tong tong’ (hurt hurt) and got on with it. But those awful weeks in the Neonatal Intensvie Care Unit really helped to pull us together and remind us to be grateful for what we have. I don’t know what you are going through, but I hope there is light at the end of the tunnel for you. And luckily you have each other.

  3. I’ve always had low blood pressure. I mean, always. My husband tries to help me with that constantly; it worries him. I do feel bad that I am not so successful but my husband says to me, “You are who you are.” I admit, he is the first person who truly accepted me as I am; flaws and all. Not even my own family did that; they were litterally posion (filled me with lies and disrespect).

    My husband and I had to delt with a lot of drama with getting him a green card; that’s a horror story all on its own.

    {But the other day, I smiled after John repeated the words tónggāngòngkǔ like our daily mantra. “Maybe this trouble isn’t so bad after all,” I said. “Because our relationship isn’t the trouble, it’s our strength.”}

    Loved this. Exactly. 🙂 I am very happy for your relationship. I am dreadfully sorry about the situation.

  4. Our parents, especially when we were young, used to tell us kids to 同甘共苦 tonggan gongku, share weal and woe or joys and sorrows although I guess we didn’t quite get it then. We seldom heard our parents say 同舟共济 tongzhou gongji though. I guess it was sort of understood that if you were in the same boat you gotta help each other! Whatever problems you and John are facing, I hope you will continue to 同舟共济 and 同甘共苦 and believe in yourselves. You can do it! 加油!

  5. 同甘共苦 is equivalent to wedding vows of “For Better and For Worse” in the western culcture. We share and shoulder many life’s challenges together in the past 23 years. My job loss, my mother’s passing, his close family members’passing, it is what peple get married for – you don’t do it alone during these events – not so to avoid the events but knowing that someone who will love you and support you no matter what is what the phrase really means.
    You and Jon have a special bond that will get you through lives that many peopl may not have the pleasure or fortune to enjoy. Stay strong and God bless.

  6. Sorry to hear about that, Jocelyn. It’s always comforting to know that you won’t have to face it alone, when you have your partner by your side – sometimes not physically (which is always tough), but at least in heart and mind.

    Since I’m young and don’t have a lot of money, I have neither the time nor the financial means to travel and stay in China, where my boyfriend currently is. LDRs suck. Also, the prospects of him coming to the UK and being granted a visa are very, very limited, and it’s extremely upsetting to sense his helplessness over a situation which he can’t change, and knowing now that the responsibility of this relationship is down to me. I’m planning to travel to China this april and spend the following few weeks at his side – but the question neither of us wants to admit to ourselves is this – what happens next?

    I have to go to uni for the next three years, and our original plan of applying for a marriage visa in the UK doesn’t allow us to marry, so long as I am a student. Only on Christmas and Easter holidays would I be able to travel back and forth to see him. So that rubs his family the wrong way too, since they wanted him to get married (preferably to a nice little Chinese girl) and settle down very soon. They don’t like the thought of the instability and implications of a relationship between a Chinese and UK national. Since he is the only son, the deal is even less sweet. If he eventually comes here, he still can’t work, and so would have to rely on me to take care of him – which is a big loss of face for Chinese men. I don’t want to leave my family behind, and neither does he. But I must say, my baby’s tenacity and determination is very reassuring. As that awful HSM song goes, we’re all in this together 😀

  7. Valentina, I know where you are coming from. I am a Uk national married to a Chinese man who is a Canadian Citizen. We met on my gap year in Canada. We’ve now been together 3 years. Married for 6 months. Although visas are still an issue and I’m in my 2nd out of 3 years at University. I fly over there whenever I get time Off. However in my free time here all I seem to do is work to be able to afford flights. It’s a long hard road, but I know it will be worth it in the end.

    All the best

  8. I asked my wife a question ” Honey, will you suffer with me , if we lose everything? ” she replied YES. I don’t want to comment too much but there is nothing we can not solve as a couple. Sacrifice , unity and love = relationship/marriage

  9. They try to discourage interracial marriages in the UK, particularly those of international variety. A Brit acquaintance of mine is still trying to still get a visa for his Thai-American wife after five years. However, his white colleague who married a white American woman was able to get her into the UK in one year. Then I know a Brit doctor in Singapore whose Malaysian Chines wife was ordered deported because she did not have adequate English standards, although she had a nursing degree…they had to leave the country and now live in Singapore and dont have any interntion of returning to live in the UK soon!

  10. This is what a commited, loving and respected relationship is about. You go through eveything together, the good, the bad and the ugly; you are a solid unit and knowing this makes both people strong (stronger). Together you can conquer anything just beleive in yourselves, in each other and your convictions.

    A short message for Bruce – I enjoy reading your comments they are very insightful; if you were a single man there’d be many girls vying for your affections!

  11. Hey, Jocelyn. I’m very impressed by your story and really wish you and your husband all the best. I’ll surely follow your blogs to see you and other people’s stories. ^ ^ I’m becoming more and more interested in intercultural things. Thank you!

  12. “They try to discourage interracial marriages in the UK, particularly those of international variety. A Brit acquaintance of mine is still trying to still get a visa for his Thai-American wife after five years. However, his white colleague who married a white American woman was able to get her into the UK in one year”

    I don’t like the implication of racism here. There’s no policy against “interracial” marriage, but there are some stringently enforced policies to prevent us from bringing “dependents” into the UK. That may have something to do with the fact that social security in the UK is more extensive, including things like universal healthcare. I’d agree that some of these policies are unfair and cause undue stress and heartbreak to international couples. Having said that, I recently married a Chinese woman and she already has a 5-year visa with no hassle at all.

    The UK has a high rate of interracial marriage, and there are many well-known interracial couples in national life.

  13. I can debate Jack for a long time. I have been to Australia five times already…spent a southern winter at the Unviersity of Adelaide. I have to agree with Jack that Australia on average is pretty bad. I am actually surprised that there were not widespread protest or hate after the real life Last Mao’s dancer and his white wife were given the Parents of the Year Award in 2009. However, one does not need to go to Australia to figure this out. Try Singapore or Hong Kong. Full of white Aussies who have no problems working on fat salaries there..but try telling them you are going to Australia to work…nine out of ten start complaining about overcrowding in Australia…yet they have no problem about overcrowding Singapore or Hong Kong. Of course, Singaporeans feel the same way. They dont like foreigners working in their country but they want unlimited rights to work in countries such as Australia…pretty disgusting really, and selfish plain and simple. However, the white Brits are the main culprits when it comes to this attitude. ..and the favorite pastime of many Aussie women with expat husbands (put many white American, Brit and other English-speaking white women (with one major exception, Canadian white women) and their daughters in this category as well) in Singapore is to sit for tea around 3PM and starbucks and gossip about the latest single expat taken by a local Singaporean “girl.” When my US friend married a Filipina maid back in 2004, the gossip really got pretty bad…one of contempt, though not of hate. Let us say some of these women and girls felt like throwing up. I thought that would be over by 2011…but no, a new group of white females get together every day and the gossip is well the same.

    But, trying to generalize what happens in Australia to the US is unfair, for the US is a world in one country. I do not know what made Jocelyn and her husband choose [State]. Actually, I posted a link where most people concede that [State] is pretty racist. However, given the current circumstances in Alabama, Georgia and SC, as well as other states such as Mississippi and Louisiana and their history of racism and bigtory, [State] is slightly better. Arizona is equally bad. A Japanese colleague of mine at ASU in Tempe was literally run out of town by her boyfriend’s mormon family and she is a mormon…end, finished, they dont want any Japanese blood contaminating their pure white blood, according to her. Asian and Asian American students with white girl or boyfriends or husbands or wives regularly complain in these states. I still have not figured out why any Asian American will want to study in those states.

    However, there are places in the US where there will be very little trouble for Asian-white couples…try Arlington, VA, Fairfax, VA, Cerritos, CA, Milbrae, CA, Seattle, WA, Arcadia, CA, Glendora, CA, Cuppertino, CA, or Honolulu, HI. There are other places as well such as Minneapolis, MN and Cambridge, MA…great places for such couples. Sure, you have to get a good job and kids have to compete in schools but mixed asian-white kids generally compete well with the top students anyway…genetic or environment I do not know but that is a fact!

  14. @Sveta, don’t mind me saying, but it doesn’t sound like you are in an equal relationship. It seems even kind of selfish for him to do that.
    Its not a good sign.

    @Taiwanxifu, I was born over 2 months earlier as well! Premature babies, UNITE! 😀 I think us premature babies are just too eager for this world we decided to come out several months early! But yeh I remember my childhood, I literally went to hospital 3 times a week, because I was such a daredevil monkey. So watch out for your kid, I think premature babies have the tendency to be hyperactive.

    @Jocelyn Eikenburg, I think that’s what the relationship is all about, to weather a storm together.

    What worries me is the macro-trend in public perception shaped by the media in spreading sinophobia. Latest polls seem to indicate Americans are now blaming China on EVERYTHING. Both Democrats and Republicans are now using China as the scapegoat for all the problems, China is now literally the Piñata for both parties and the general public. The media for whatever ther reason also likes to focus negative aspect of China and any Chinese news.

    I found it very sad that mainland Chinese I met nowadays tell people they are from Hong Kong/Taiwan/Singapore even Korea or Japan. Being Chinese means you are now the most hated people on planet earth, even in Africa. African American (Black American) are more accepted now than even Chinese.

    These dangerous trends in the media and public perceptions are making a perfect storm for some really ugly racist attacks on Chinese – as happened in the past in Indonesia, Malaysia and Mexico. Similar to the jews in Nazi Germany, when China becomes more affluent, and more affluent Chinese move to America, more resentments brews as American (and EU) economy are still on a downward spiral.

    There will be more intensifying racists attitude towards Chinese in oncoming years, So be ready to expect more racist attacks too.

  15. Just something I experienced throughout my life living in Australia.
    I am have been accused of “taking the jobs away from the locals” by my co-workers even though I am Australian, I pay tax here, and I am ready to defend this country if its under attack. My look and being asian means no matter how good I can speak, or write in English, or how long I have been here (since I was a kid, 21+ years), I will always be an outsider. Just like Bruce Lee’s mother-in-law once said to him : “You are an American citizen, you are not an American.”

    So the road ahead for your husband is going to be very long and hard. Don’t expect otherwise.

  16. I think you are aware of the emotional dimension your husband is going to face and how it will affect your relationship. The constant stress he will face from a hostile environment will directly affect your marriage and relationship, as it is “easy” for him to vent his emotion on you who he could perceive as in the same camp as the hostile group (reverse racism). It will take a lot of patience and understanding, and clarification to work through it.

  17. Hi Jack
    The thinking of “taking the jobs away from locals” has been around
    since the 50’s when Greeks and Italians started to migrate to Australia (the reason they came is because Australia needed the workforce). Australia is a mixture of all nations and race (the 1st convicts and settlers were from Great Britain) and that’s what makes it a great place; it still has it’s “racists” like any other County and it always will have racists but as a whole I thing the we are tolerant and accept that we are made up of many, many nationalities. If anyone questions me about my “nationality” or “race” I look them straight in their eyes and say I am and Australian citizen and defy them to say anything else.

  18. Jocelyn,

    I’m so sorry to hear that you’re dealing with this. It sounds like a much bigger problem than I thought when I read the other blog entry that discussed it. I don’t mean to sound like I ever thought it was petty but I’m sure you’ve had your share of discrimination as a couple as I’ve had with my Chinese boyfriends. Some you try to let slide, and others are too big to let slide. I hope you’re recharging with all of the support you are getting from your readers. I wish I could do more to help and I’m sure others do also. But it also looks like you’ve got a wonderful relationship with your husband and with that kind of strength working for you, I think you will come out of this just fine.

    Lots of love and many blessings to you both,


  19. “I don’t like the implication of racism here. There’s no policy against “interracial” marriage, but there are some stringently enforced policies to prevent us from bringing “dependents” into the UK. ”

    My be you are right, but I simply do not trust the brains and intellect of a government that tries to shut down skilled workers from outside the EU, and are so filled with contempt that they are driving jobs away from the UK….actually not only jobs, but educated citizens of the country. I met a Brit in Singapore and he told me that his corporation, Rolls Royce Marine Unit said to him..”you either move to Singapore or you are out of work.” Bangsar area in Malaysia is full of Brits looking for work or working in Kuala Lumpur. The British immigration policy is a failure. At least so far the Aussies and Singaporeans have brains not to shut off vital intellect from other countries. No wonder Singapore unemployment is near 2% and Australian unemployment is 5% compared to the 8.3% and growing unemployment in the UK. In 2004, Germany was the laughing stock of Europe and the UK was the golden boy or girl. Now, UK is at least let us say in very serious trouble.

  20. “when China becomes more affluent, and more affluent Chinese move to America, more resentments brews as American (and EU) economy are still on a downward spiral.”
    My answer to the resenters who are already in existence today in the main stream America (try Pat Buchanan and James Edwards of the Political Cesspool) is that I believe in the death penalty. Death penalty advocates such as Pat Buchanan and James Edwards when they hear a death row inmate pleading for his life, one simple question: “what brought him to this predicament.” Of course for these racist clowns it applies to everyone except them. So I will step in and ask “What brought America, particularly white America to this predicament?” Unlimited borrowing from countries such as China. You have to pay the piper and if the Chinese just move in by re-investing the bond interest in America, Americans can count themselves very lucky. In the olden days the creditors asked families to give their daughters in marriage or used to pack them and send them off to Australia. I am pretty certain for many racist white Americans living in the affluent suburbs of Birmingham (Jefferson County is now bankrupt and many Chinese are among the creditors who want their money back), such as Mountain Brook, the former solution will not be palatable at least to their stomachs and intestines. So, if they just bought the all-white Mountain Brook Country club and just moved in to the area, these racist folks are very lucky. I dont expect them to move in though…I think many will move into Huntington Beach, CA where there are a lot of foreclosed homes…racist suburb but not as bad as Mountain Brook, AL…where your skin color is all that matters.

  21. Mina,

    You like my comments so far? I can’t fool others because I am who I am. We will face discrimination wherever we go but it will make us stronger. Don’t run away from problems. Face them, discuss them and destroy all the negative comments/negativities in your mind. Sometimes , your enemy is yourself ( can’t let go of something/problems) . Think and feel strong after everything is solved and learn from our mistakes.


  22. @Jack I think you’ll find this problem is worse in Europe. I met a half Korean half German girl in Singapore, she was born and raised in Germany by an Austrian father and a Korean mother but she looks very Asian. She told me that the first reaction of other Germans to her is how good her German is. Then she tells them that she was born and raised in Germany. But the disconnect between her face and her nationality is just too much for people to handle so she never feels like she belongs in Germany.

    Given how most people associate nationality with race, I think mix-race marriages face a really serious issue. The little hassles you deal with in peace time are minor compared to what you would have to deal with if the countries ever go to war. As enlightened and liberal as the US claims to be, when the chips are down the government chose to lock up Japanese descent Americans regardless of citizenship and birth status. The same goes for Canada. The United States government has recently chosen to assassinate a Yemeni American without trial because he was considered a suspected terrorist. Never mind that this is unconstitutional or that he’s an American citizen, being of middle eastern descent automatically made him suspect in the minds of the Fox News crowd so few people protested or said anything. Just consider what would happen if the relationship between China and the US got to a point where you and your husband are considered potential foreign spies in each other’s countries.

    I know this white American guy who’s an alumni of my university, he moved to Hokkaido after graduation and married a Japanese woman. He has 2 daughters, one looks Caucasian and the other looks Japanese. When they tried to stay at a hot spring resort the manager told them that his wife and the Japanese looking daughter can stay but he and the Caucasian looking daughter can’t. Imagine how devastating it is to a kid’s self esteem to be refused service by local business establishments because she looks different from the kids around her, even her own sister.

    I’m not saying this to discourage anyone, but I do think that interracial marriages should only be attempted by people who are insanely tough. Granted, if you can make it through all the crap life throws at you in an interracial marriage and stay sane, married, and happy then all I can say is, RESPECT.

  23. Jeff:

    Where do you draw the line? In Korea, all Asians are supposed to look the same. But, marriages with other Asians are considered interracial and other Asians and the mixed offspring are not treated very well. Yes, Germans tend to be racist. Many also do not like Southern or Eastern Europeans. Japan has its share of racism as well. In India, supposedly all Indians look the same, but there is the caste and if you step out of your caste, you are a dead person at least in the villages. What you are suggesting is a path down the slippery slope. If you give the bigots an inch, they will take a mile.

    I totally agree with what you are saying about Japanese internment. But, that was a problem with the white people, and that is the main reason we need to make white people a minority in this country…it is definitely a necessary condition but many not be a sufficient condition. Did the white Americans do the same thing to the Germans? No! But, the Germans destroyed other white people because they were not Aryan enough. Again, you cannot draw a line and say that this is where the division is. A Korean marrying a Japanese in America and settling down in Japan and their kids will be treated worse than a half white kid in that country. So, by that rule, we should not marry other Asians different from us, right? Well, the Japanese will say so! If you live by other’s wishes, you will be confused than an interracial kid. And the white Americans are more confused than most. If a war comes with China, they will go after anyone who has a suspicious eye slant…including native Americans and some Hispanics. They wont make any difference. Most Americans cannot think beyond race. That is their religion.

    Having said all this, interracial couples need to avoid sme places in America….as I have made a list, I need not repeat it here. However, there are places where interracial couples wont have many problems…here in Arlington, VA, Cerritos, CA and Honolulu, HI to name just a few. Mixed couples and mixed race kids are treated better in Hawaii than white couples and full blooded white kids! That is the reality!

  24. Do you guys know that most marriages won’t last because lack of trust , sacrifice,unity and love? I think all bank accts should be joint after you get married ( test of trust). Once, you have unity in a marriage/relationship, your spouse will NOT even take a penny from you. I LOVE SACRIFICE the most is because we use our time, our heart to postpone some thing or eliminate something from our lives due to untangible goals at this moment. When we have money, we buy the best . Also , during good times, we go to the best restaurants;however, we will eat porridge and pickled cabbage on bad times TOGETHER as a couple and settle for less. If husband or wife can do this kind of sacrifices, you are one of the lucky ones!! When your husband/wife snores, you still sleep in the same bed with him/her (LOVE) and not sleep separately in another room. I don’t really know what all of you guys think about “sharing the sweetness and sorrows” but these are my interpretations.

  25. As I have said over and over again, in olden days, back in the 1960s and 1970s, foreign students could not get access to information about racist areas in this country. These days with internet they should know better…for instance, for the life of me I will never know why this guy from Zimbabwe came to study in Kentucky and he really had the guts to go to a racist white area and sing in the church..and now that the church wont accept him, he is very surprised…folks this is eastern kentucky..and that is the way life is over there….

  26. DAVID,

    It’s okay as long as we know what’s going on out there. We don’t have to move to another state or do anything to please racists. It’s not that bad okay. Just focus on our jobs and families. If we care too much, we will lose to those haters.


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