People often say that to understand the present, you have to look at the past. That’s why I started my AMWF History series, to examine interracial relationships between Asian men and non-Asian women in earlier times.
So today, I’m revisiting some rather telling quotes from posts I’ve featured for AMWF History, in an effort to raise awareness about how people have talked about Asian men in interracial relationships years ago.
As I compiled this post, I found it disconcerting (but not surprising) that a number of the opinions described below still endure, including in dark corners of the internet. A lot of people still believe interracial love is wrong.
This list of quotes is by no means comprehensive. So please, sound off in the comments with your examples too — let’s continue the conversation together.
The average American cannot understand how any human being, however inured by custom, can live in an average Chinatown. That white women should live there by deliberate choice seems to him monstrous, horrible.
She is but twenty-two years of age, remarkably beautiful and possessed of a voice that…would be a fortune. Yet three years ago, she met and loved a Chinaman.
It is also well known that not one Chinaman in a hundred comes to these shores without leaving behind a wife in China; so by the laws of China, the white wife is not a wife…
They have had six children, of whom five are living – bright, intelligent half breeds. And Mrs. Watson (her husband took that name when baptized) is still handsome and pleasant spoken.
Quong asked Margaret’s father, George Scarlett, for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Even though he was a friend of Quong’s, George refused. Quong Tart and Margaret waited until the day after her twenty-first birthday, on 30 August 1886, and married anyway. Quong was then thirty-six. The appearance of grandchildren eventually reconciled Margaret’s parents to their daughter’s marriage.
Letticie wrote her brothers of her marriage, and received a terse letter back, in which her family disowned her. How could she marry a Chinese? It was disgusting, they wrote, and she was no longer their sister. She knew she would never see or hear from any of them ever again.
Aunt Sanora told me that on one particular occasion when they were going out to dine at a Chinese restaurant, a woman had taken the time to follow them to the entrance of the establishment. As she harassed the two of them for being together, Aunt Sanora took the woman’s hat and tossed it in the gutter. Aunt Sanora remembers this woman chasing the hat down the sewer drain exclaiming, “My $100 hat!” When the miscegenation laws were repealed, it took them three days to find a judge who would marry them. When they finally did, the judge remarked, “She looks old enough. If she wants to marry a chink, that’s her business.”
Lotte fell in love with Anton Maramis, a Manadonese petty officer, and married him with her family’s support, although she battled much antagonism from the broader Australian public she encountered. Many other young Australian women faced strong opposition from families and friends to the decisions they made to marry their Indonesian fiancés and return with them to their homes once Independence had been declared.
Married or not, they earned a reputation in ultra-conservative post-war England as being “loose women” and, in another archive, Charles Foley found that government officials dismissed those married to or cohabiting with a Chinese partner as “the prostitute class”.
What quotes have you come across about how people in the past thought of interracial relationships with Asian men?
Have you ever imagined romance on the wide, open seas? Meet Mary, a Ukrainian woman who worked on a cruise ship and fell for her colleague from South China. I’m honored to share the tale, along with a lovely collection of photos that document their precious love.
He asked if he could accompany me on this trip … and he became my companion for life.
I was working on a luxury cruise ship and my day off looked pretty fun. I planned to sail up to Manaus, the capital of northwestern Brazil, for shopping, lunch, a crocodile safari tour in the Amazon river just for crew members, dinner in a traditional Mexican restaurant and clubbing all night.
When my girlfriends and I entered the l boat for the safari tour, which was supposed to take us to see dangerous crocodiles, he was already onboard, taking pictures of the Amazonian waters.
He was the handsome IT engineer on the cruise ship.
I had talked to him on our ship before. He was always very polite and friendly, and this moment was no exception. He asked if he could sit next to me and accompany me on this trip.
I said “Yes,” never realizing it was the beginning of our romance.
The next day we had a date in Manaus city. Then we got together Curacao island, Aruba, St. Martin and Puerto Rico, and along the way our love grew.
Both of us had worked on cruise ships for a few years, traveling all over the world. We shared a lot in common, including the fact that we were both dreamers who were accustomed to taking action to achieve our goals. With him everything always felt easy and enjoyable.
When our working contracts had ended, I flew back to the Ukraine, while he went home to South China. Yet the bond between the two of us remained strong.
Three months after we parted, he arrived in my city of Lviv and we traveled together to all the best places in Ukraine.
Later, I was invited to visit him and his family in Guangzhou, where he proposed to me. I went back home and announced to my parents that I would move to China.
We did not find any obstacles in our way. My parents really liked him, and his parents liked me.
Before the wedding, we lived together for one year. We established our own home and found jobs (as we had resigned from the cruise company). We also traveled together to Shanghai, Hong Kong and Macau, and had a paradise honeymoon in Hawaii. Our wedding supposed to be small, but we ended up with 120 people in attendance. My parents, a few relatives and friends came from Ukraine. It was mix of traditions, with sea-inspired decorations, Chinese cuisine, Ukrainian embroidered towels, a first dance and a hip party for younger guests on the 65th floor of the Hyatt rooftop bar.
Eleven months after the wedding, we were blessed with our gorgeous daughter Alicia, becoming the happiest parents ever. Now seven months old, she is a very interesting and cute little baby.
When we are together, nothing seems impossible. There are no distances, no obstacles and barriers for us. We are citizens of the world. And we will continue to open up this world together and show all of its beauty to our girl.
Then I discovered AMWF, AMXF and WWAM. Nowadays, these acronyms have become powerful connectors and tags that have given rise to new communities.
That of course, leads to new questions. Such as, what’s the right one to use? And should we even bother with all the labels?
AMWF (Asian Male, White Female) relationships
I’m not exactly sure when I learned about AMWF, which most people refer to as Asian Male, White Female. But what I do know is this — AMWF is probably one of the most popular acronyms out there to describe the very relationship I have with Jun. He’s an Asian man, I’m a White woman.
So it’s not surprising, then, that many people have blogged about AMWF relationships.
Now, on this blog, I’ve diverged a bit when interpreting AMWF relationships as being “Asian Male, Western Female.” That’s because the perspective can be a little different over here in Asia. I’ve developed a camaraderie with many women from Western countries around the world dating and/or married to Asian men. That includes women who are not White and also women who are Asian themselves but born and raised in a Western country (like my friend Michelle Guo, who is Chinese American and married to a man from China). For us, it’s issues of culture that often come to the forefront of our relationships.
But if AMWF relationships doesn’t work for you, here’s another option:
So, just when you thought we couldn’t possibly stir up the alphabet soup of acronyms to describe our relationships, here’s another: WWAM (Western Women, Asian Men) relationships.
The term WWAM first emerged a few years ago when it became attached to the name of a virtual community in China, uniting women from Western countries who happened to have Chinese boyfriends or husbands. The community grew and so did people’s identification with the label (some even calling themselves WWAMs).
Later, the term WWAM inspired the name of our group blog WWAM BAM (Western Women, Asian Men – Breaking All Molds).
As I mentioned above, we gravitate toward the term “Western women” because cultural differences often loom large in our relationships.
Is it AMWF relationships? Or AMXF relationships? Or WWAM relationships? And does it matter?
But now that we have three acronyms in play, is it better to say AMWF relationships or AMXF relationships or WWAM relationships? What should you use?
I personally feel it depends on your perspective and what feels most comfortable (and descriptive) to you. There’s not necessarily one right answer.
But then again, does it even matter? Should we care about labels – or identify with them?
Not everyone wants to categorize their relationship with an acronym like AMWF. After all, just because your relationship looks similar to others, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to have a lot in common.
If you’d rather ditch the labels and find your community elsewhere, then I say more power to you. Nobody has to wave an AMWF or AMXF or WWAM flag in their lives, even if they happen to be in a relationship like that.
Knowing them doesn’t mean I don’t have other “tribes” as well, circles of people who share other interests of mine (like reading books or hiking in the woods).
But when I think back to my first steps into China — a time before the rise of social media, blogs and even video calling — I remember feeling so isolated as the foreign girlfriend of a Chinese man. I couldn’t even share it with my foreign coworkers (who actually said some openly racist things about Chinese men around the dinner table).
After years of that, finding the community was a revelation, the most universal and comforting of all. Finally, I wasn’t alone.
What do you think? Do you prefer AMWF relationships or WWAM relationships? And does it even matter?
The vast majority of people (whether consciously or unconsciously) date and marry within their own race.
According to Wikipedia, 97% of married white men and women in America are married to another white person, 89% of married black men and women are married to another black person and 91% of married Asian men and women are married to another Asian person.
If you happen to be in the less than 4% (according to Wikipedia only 3.9% of married couples in the US in 2008 were interracial couples – this is a big increase from less than 1% in 1990 but still an extremely low percentage) you are almost certain to get a question or comment about your interracial relationship at some point.
Both my fiance and I are Australian. I was born in Australia to anglo parents, he was born in China to Chinese parents.
While most people I’ve encountered don’t (at least openly) say anything about us being an interracial couple, I have encountered curiosity from both westerners and Asians as well as a few rare comments that are at least misguided if not racist.
The most common question I have gotten from Asians is a surprised “but how did you meet/get together with a Chinese guy?” while I’ve had both Asians and white people ask if I am “attracted to Asians”.
The first question stems mostly from curiosity, I think. While it’s fairly common to see white men with Asian women it is far more rare to see Asian men with white women (although I am happy to see it does seem to be getting more common).
The first question is also easy to answer – we were flatmates, we didn’t get along at all at first but slowly became friends and eventually fell in love.
The second question I honestly find bizarre. Imagine you asked that of a white person who was dating another white person “so, you are attracted to white people?”
No, I am not attracted to white people, or Asians, or black people or any race.
I am attracted to the man I am with because of WHO he is not what race he is.
I am attracted to him because he is strong but also prepared to show true vulnerability with me (something I have found to be incredibly rare).
I am attracted to him because he takes responsibility (for himself, for his decisions, for his family). He doesn’t expect anything from anyone.
I am attracted to him because he has an adventurous spirit and finds ways things can be done rather than putting them in the too hard basket.
I am attracted to him because he doesn’t shy away from things that are difficult, he faces challenges as they come up.
I am attracted to him because he knows what he wants and is prepared to work hard for it.
I am attracted to him because he prioritises what’s important to him and doesn’t let other things or other people run his life.
I am attracted to him because he’s upfront, he doesn’t manipulate or play games.
I am attracted to him because he is great at solving problems, an excellent traveller and can fix things.
Most of all I am attracted to him because we get each other on a level I find hard to explain – I haven’t felt this in any other relationship (even one that lasted for years).
Also, I think he’s pretty cute and his snuggles are second to none 🙂
Chi (her real name, no exotic background, pronounced Chai, like the tea) is engaged to a man who was born in China and grew up in Argentina before immigrating to Australia. Chi writes about her experiences (mostly her struggles trying to learn Mandarin) at www.talkingofchinese.com. —–
Becky writes, “there is nothing within a traditional British upbringing that can prepare you for living with Chinese relatives.” If you’ve ever lived with Chinese family, this post is for you.
Do you have a story about Chinese family or something else you’d like to share on Speaking of China? Check out the submit a post page to learn more about how to have your writing published here.
When Disney taught me about happily ever after, they forgot to add in some additional clauses about cross-cultural relationships. In particular the challenges that accompany a AMWF (Asian Man, White Female relationship). Thus when I fell in love last summer to the sweetest, gentlest man I’d ever met, I never realised that the happy ever after I’d always longed for had inadvertently sent me on a cultural collision course. In fact, despite being in my mid-20’s, I assumed, as my good friends Cinderella and Pocahontas had once taught me, that love could, and would, solve everything.
As I’m rudely awoken on the other side of the planet a year or so later by my boyfriend’s mobile, I can’t help thinking I may have been a little naive. I pretend to be asleep despite knowing exactly what will happen next. Sure enough, within minutes the doorbell, which his mum has erected in his room, starts ringing. From this point I know that my cuddle time is very shortly to expire. As if on cue, I hear shouting in Mandarin coming progressively closer and, before I have time to move, his mum barges into the room and begins tidying around us.
It’s hours before I’d planned to get up. It’s Saturday. I want to cry.
I’d never planned to be in this position, but after my partner’s student visa had expired and following eight-months struggling with the many nuances of long-distance relationships, we’d decided that enough was enough and so, despite protests from my friends that I was crazy, I packed my bags and headed to live with my boyfriend, and his Chinese parents.
A month into the experience and I can say categorically that there is nothing within a traditional British upbringing that can prepare you for living with Chinese relatives.
In the UK, we are taught to strive for independence, in China children are taught to be deferent to their elders. In the UK we value personal space, in China the concept doesn’t really exist. In the UK we are reminded that it’s the taking part that counts, in China people are reminded that success (which is largely measured by the size of your bank balance) is what matters.
None of these things are right or wrong but the gulf between the two can, at times, seem unbridgeable.
Perhaps the hardest thing for a westerner trying to make AMWF’s work is that you have to completely redefine your concept of space. The fact that you are a grown adult and have been making your own life decisions for many years ultimately means very little. For example, you will be asked many times a day about your food; what you’ve had, when you had it and would you like anymore?
This is nothing more than an expression of love, and to be treated with such hospitality is something you’d be unlikely to find back at home. Nonetheless, when the first question you’re asked each morning is what are you having for breakfast, it can get a little grinding.
For all the times I want to scream (and there are many), there’s the time I get to spend with my best friend. The truth is that however hard it gets, being without the person you love would be far worse.
For those considering moving to the East to be with their loved one, you must be aware that the step you are trying to make is a huge one. You will feel nagged, claustrophobic and completely alien. If that sounds daunting, then it’s meant to. But if your partner is prepared to make you part of his family, and you’re prepared to sacrifice so much in moving to be with him, then it sounds like your awkwardly packaged happy ending might be something worth fighting for.
Becky is a self-confessed golf addict blogging about the world’s best, quirkiest and most obscure golf courses at The Nomadic Golfer.
What’s the difference between dating in China and the UK? Here’s one personal take on that question from Miriam, including the story of how she met her Chinese husband.
Do you have your own “kiss and tell” story you’d like to share here on Speaking of China? Check out the submit a post page to learn more about what we’re looking for.
I came to China at the age of 26 and already knew about more divorces than I could count on both hands and feet (including my parents), as well as many more single women my age than married (or happily partnered) ones. I’d also had enough experience with men to know I wasn’t impressed with the dating and marriage culture in the UK.
One evening in the UK I was out having a drink with two female colleagues after work. While I was at the bar, an attractive guy in his late 20s/early 30s came up to me.
“I just got promoted today and I’d love to buy you a drink to celebrate.”
I was flattered by this and looked back at my colleagues to make sure they didn’t mind me being waylaid. The two girls looked back and me with smiles on their faces and motioned for me to keep talking to him.
“Thanks, a gin and tonic would be great.”
We got talking and I found myself thinking: why would this guy not have a girlfriend already? To find out whether he was single or not I casually asked: “So where’s your girlfriend tonight?”
“Oh, she’s at home having a night in with the girls.”
What!?!? And this wasn’t the only time.
For several months a man used to come into my work in the UK just to talk to me. They didn’t seem like especially romantically driven exchanges – he would just ask me how I was and talk about other neutral topics. However, finding myself bored of being single, I took the plunge and asked him out. If he had a girlfriend he would decline and we would go back to regular, friendly chit-chat. I was pleased when he accepted my invitation for coffee, but still had a little doubt in my mind. I decided to act on these doubts and ask directly whether he was seeing anyone else.
“So, do you have a girlfriend?”
“Yes, I have two actually. One’s 25 and the other’s 32.”
I repeat: what?!?!?
He proceeded to talk to me about how much difficulty he had deciding on which girl he should be with, but felt no rush to make a decision about it right away. I was tired of this attitude towards dating, which seemed to be getting more and more common.
Before coming to China, I was open to the idea that it might be for the long-term, as my job prospects would be better in China. On researching Chinese culture before I came to China, I was pleased to read about the emphasis on marriage and also pleased about the less liberal attitude towards sex. In saying this, I’m not suggesting that I thought it would be “easy” to get married in China, or that there would be any fewer relationship difficulties than I might have had in the UK. However, just knowing that marriage was valued and that both men and women were strongly encouraged to seek marriage at my age gave me a sense of security and confidence that I hadn’t had before.
I met my husband on a dating website. His profile told me he was 34 and “looking for marriage”. He messaged me first saying something about his surprise seeing a British woman on an Asian dating website and we exchanged a few emails after that. From his emails he was clearly talkative, charming and open-minded (willing to talk about anything from Astrology to books on popular science). And yes, he had excellent English (a very understandable barrier to AM/WF relationships as mentioned on Jocelyn’s blog in different posts). Just over a year after we met he proposed to me on a beach in Qingdao and the following year we got registered as married.
My family in the UK are all delighted for me and I’ve been told numerous times about what an excellent choice of husband I’ve made! My in-laws in China were also incredibly supportive of our relationship from the start and my mother-in-law especially treats me like I’m her flesh and blood daughter. Although we’ve gone through our rough patches, my husband’s complete commitment to the values of marriage and family have made it so much easier to resolve any conflicts or misunderstandings as soon as they occur. We’re both committed to making our future a happy and fulfilling one, even though we both know that a happy marriage takes work. I’m also delighted that my husband is now planning our approaching wedding party in China with as much zeal and enthusiasm as his bride!
P.S.: This comparison is just from my experience of living and dating in the UK and China. I do know many happily married British couples from my generation…just not as many as you might expect. Please don’t be offended if you’re a British woman who isn’t the least bit interested in getting married, or a British man who would like nothing more than to walk down the aisle, or a Chinese man who has ‘two girlfriends’ and isn’t looking for a wife!
Flye Hudson, a Lesbian Pickup Artist, shares the story of how she met her “Asian Christian Grey” in this guest post. She also reveals an excerpt from her new memoir PET., the story of how she was seduced by her Asian Christian Grey and how they both joined forces to become prominent members of the underground seduction community.
(NOTE: Flye references sexual content and language that may be offensive to some readers. Reader discretion is advised.)
A lot of people aren’t aware of the different types of relationships that occur for AMWF couples. A lot of people aren’t aware of the true dominance that Asian men really have. I read a lot of… romance books. And believe it or not, many of them are cheesy. What I’ve lived however is something that is very much on the dark side. A chaotic and messed up romance life in an underground community of seduction artists. I still can’t believe I am living the real thing.
There have been a lot of crazy things that have happened with my partner and I. We met off of a fetish website that catered to BDSM, which I was referred to by my former sorority sister. When I had filled out my profile, I was also trying to get back at my now ex girlfriend who had cheated on me with her girlfriend and her former boyfriends. I had specifically wrote in that I had high preferences for Asian men but was open to all kinds of men (at the time I didn’t think most Asian men would be attracted to my plainness. I was definitely the cat loving, rock loving, emo scene kind of girl back then unlike today). I had received MANY messages that were very inappropriate, especially some that were racist for me putting down Asian men. It’s amazing how insecure and rude some dudes can be on the internet.
I received a message finally from someone who approached me with the line: “Been hit up by a lot of creepers, huh?” At first I didn’t think anything of it because it was the first normal message I had ever received on the site. So maybe it was a little silly of me, but I went back and forth with him. But after a short exchange of messages, a Skype call, an accidental stand up on a date, and finally meeting in person, we ended up dating and getting into a lot of trouble.
Trouble means a lot of things. From obeying and serving an Asian Master, to having a threesome with my ex girlfriend on Halloween night, to two hospital visits, to learning the art of seduction, to the amazing parties and women we met on the way in our journey, to meeting his traditional Chinese mother who found our sex toy kit, we have been through so much. And while a lot of pain and torment came with some of our adventures, I do not regret them.
To get a taste of those adventures, here’s an excerpt from my new memoir PET.
“Hey, did you forget about our date?”
I had already f***** it up! Wednesday at 2. How could I have forgotten? Perhaps it was me checking my bank account every so often that I stressed a little prematurely- I had taken an additional shift at an odd job that I considered to be sweet but had me going more insane than I already was.
“You’re really pretty,” said a six year old, playing with my hair. I look up at a few of the workers. They smiled with their mouths but glared with their eyes.
“You know what I wish?” the boy asked.
“No idea buddy,” I said, brushing off their stares, “What do you wish for?”
“I wish I were a zombie so that I could sneak into your room every night and bite your face off.” He whispered, then proceeding to put his hands around my neck and squeeze. I laughed nervously and looked to the other counselors for help. They stared angrily for a few moments before snatching the kid off and leading him to a different activity.
I didn’t understand my passion for working in such crazy conditions. Maybe I just had a heart for people who needed help- or maybe I was just crazy and wanted to work somewhere that made me feel more normal. But none of it mattered for the time being, because I had just lost the most exciting thing that happened to me all month.
“I’ll make it up to You,” I reasoned, “Let’s do Friday. I’ll buy You lunch, my treat.”
“Sorry, I don’t like getting stood up,” Ryder said, “Good luck in the future.”
“I know, I forgot and I’m sorry,” I said, “but I was really working. I needed the money and I just got paid. Let me treat You out.”
“I don’t know.”
“Is there any way I can make You change your mind?” I asked.
Silence. Five minutes later, my phone buzzed.
Ryder. “Let’s talk on video tonight. Right now.”
“Why not? Are you a catfish? Why else would you be afraid?”
Because I looked like a pile of s***?
“Give me 30 minutes?” I texted.
Plenty of time to do makeup and fix that hairrrrrrr.
Within 30 minutes I had clicked onto the video screen, made the call, and then… Wow.
It was love at first Skype.
“Hey,” He said. But at the time, there was no trace of seriousness on Him whatsoever. He was smiling, grinning ear to ear.
“Hello,” I said, immediately attracted to the man who looked better than His pictures online. I couldn’t feel my face for a moment, until He started laughing.
“What’s so funny?” I huffed, feeling insecure, “do You think I’m a catfish?”
“You’re hilarious,” He responded, “and no. I just never took you as a funny girl. But hey, thanks for not flaking on the call. You had me thinking you weren’t real.”
“Funny girl? Of course I’m real,” I justified. “And I’m sorry I flaked. Work, it just-”
“Whatever you say,” I said, relaxing, “so You said You’re from Partytown University?”
“Yep. Now I work.”
“What do You do?”
“I’m a manager, remember?”
“Oh, that’s right,” I said, unfolding my fingers into quotes, “Ize Management Major.’”
He only laughed again. “Exactly.”
It was so confusing how calm and happy He seemed. His texts seemed a little more serious, but talking to Him- He was so laid back. It was just different from what I experienced.
But not bad, not bad at all.
“What about you?” He asked.
“I’m a social worker and some other s***,” I said, “interesting jobs.”
“How many jobs do you work?”
“2 part time.”
“How’s the money?”
“Decent enough,” I lied.
“You said you’re from Hometown?” Ryder asked.
“Yeah, it’s the pits.”
“Ain’t hard to imagine.”
“So what brought You to the site?” I blurted out. It was a question weighing heavily on my mind.
Another laugh- in a darker tone.
“I want to find a submissive,” Ryder said, “I had an ex girlfriend a while back who wasn’t into the lifestyle. Wasn’t very fun. So now I’m much more free to do as I please. I’m looking for someone who’s open minded, eager to learn, and who knows the meaning of loyalty. And what brings you here?”
“Have You ever had a submissive before?” I asked, cringing at the word ‘loyal’.
“A few. Have you always enjoyed avoiding questions?” Ryder snickered.
“Fine.” I said. Maybe I was playing too many games. “I’m here because I’m tired of the way I’m living my life. I’m not a bad girl or anything. In fact, I’ve usually spent most of my life being busy- even too busy for me. I want to figure out what I really want and experience more out of life with the right person. I just want to find someone that I can grow to love in servitude.”
Ryder’s expression was unreadable.
“I’m used to people f****** around with me,” I said suddenly, “people who like to push me over, use me, play their games. So if You’re here to play games and f*** me over, it’s not going to work.”
“But you’re the one who stood me up, right?” Ryder smirked.
He did have a point.
“Don’t worry,” Ryder said, “you’re not the only one in that boat.”
“How many girls have You been with?”
“9 or 10,” Ryder said, “you?”
“About the same,” I said.
“Guys or girls?”
“So you’re a pimp,” Ryder teased, “or should I say a madam.”
“No, that’s not nice,” I pouted.
“But I’m not a nice guy,” Ryder winked.
Something peered at me from inside the closet.
Flye Hudson is also known as “The Lesbian Pickup Artist” and is the author of PET., the story of how she was seduced by her Asian Christian Grey and how they both joined forces to become prominent members of the underground seduction community today. You can contact her at [email protected] —–
I’m surrounded by bookish friends and bloggers who get really excited whenever they hear about interracial love stories (especially AMWF pairings) and this was one of those books everyone seemed to be talking about the summer of 2015.
I finally got my hands on a copy from the library sometime in August, which is coincidentally one of the most dreadful months weather-wise in Hangzhou. It’s so humid you feel like you’re wrapped up in a steaming wet towel wherever you walk. Normally it’s a month that doesn’t register much in my mind, as I usually spend most of it shut up indoors with the A/C cranked on high.
But I vividly remember the August days when I read The Girl Who Wrote in Silk, as though the book itself provided a much-needed vacation from the oppressive heat. Granted, the novel takes place in the gorgeous San Juan Islands (which allowed me to imagine myself into this refreshingly cool summer destination), but it’s much more than just the setting.
Kelli has woven together the lives of Inara and Mei Lien – two women separated by over 100 years, but bound together by an embroidered silk sleeve with secrets of its own – into an enchanting story filled with love, courage and humanity. There’s interracial love in the past and present (Inara catches the eye of a handsome young Chinese American professor in her quest to understand the story behind that silk sleeve; Mei Lien falls for Joseph, a man whose kindness and generosity seem as endless as the oceans that surround their island). The story spotlights atrocities against the Chinese in America, exposing history that never should have been forgotten. And did I mention it’s all so beautifully written, a real page-turner that will keep you engaged from the beginning to the end?
Kelli Estes grew up in the apple country of Eastern Washington before attending Arizona State University where she learned she’d be happiest living near the water, so she moved to Seattle after graduation. Today she lives in a Seattle suburb with her husband and two sons. When not writing, Kelli loves volunteering at her kids’ schools, reading (of course!), traveling (or playing tourist in Seattle), dining out, exercising (because of all the dining), and learning about health and nutrition.
In this interview, I asked Kelli about everything from how she approached her research to what it felt like to learn her book was a USA Today Bestseller:
You’ve written before that you knew nothing about Chinese culture prior to beginning this book, and yet your book does a good job of portraying Chinese culture. How did you approach your research to ensure your portrayal was as authentic as possible?
You’re right, before this book I knew very little about Chinese culture. When the idea for The Girl Who Wrote in Silk came to me, I really wanted to write the story, but I was completely overwhelmed with the belief that I wasn’t qualified to write it. I’m not Chinese, I don’t have any Chinese family members, I’ve never studied Chinese culture, etc. And yet, I realized that this story needed to be written because so few people knew about the anti-Chinese riots and ethnic cleansing through all Western states in the last half of the nineteenth century. No one else was writing the story, so it was up to me. I started my research by reading everything I could get my hands on…from non-fiction books on Chinese traditions, symbolism, and customs, to all kinds of fiction books with a Chinese protagonist to help me get into the point-of-view of my Chinese character. In Seattle there is a museum called the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience and they were a wealth of information for me in both their exhibits and their archives. The Wing Luke also happened to host a dinner I attended that was presented by a food and cultural anthropologist discussing and sharing food eaten by “Chinese settlers in the 1880’s.” Basically, I soaked up as much knowledge and culture as I could until I felt confident enough to write.
You were first inspired to write this story in part because of a horrifying account of a smuggler in the San Juan Islands who killed his illegal Chinese passengers rather than risk getting caught with them. And in the process of researching the novel, you went on to discover more of the darker side of American history. What surprised or shocked you most in the process of researching the story?
So much of what I learned about how Chinese people were treated shocked me, but probably what stands out the most was that other victimized cultures at the time (Native Americans, Irish immigrants, etc.) were sometimes the perpetrators of violence against Chinese. I would have liked to think that these groups would feel compassion toward one another and aid one another, but the reality is that the nation was so filled with an “Us against them” mentality, that very little compassion existed. We’ve learned some in the years since, but our nation still has a long way to go in this regard.
Your story features two cross-cultural/interracial relationships — Inara and Daniel in the present, and Mei Lien and Joseph in the past. Which couple was your favorite to write and why?
If you asked me which time period was my favorite to write I would answer the historical because I loved being able to sprinkle in the bits of information I learned in my research and I loved bringing the period to life. When you ask which was my favorite couple, however, it’s more difficult to answer. I loved Mei Lien and Joseph because Joseph’s love for Mei Lien did not see their differences that others couldn’t see past. I loved that he gave up the life he thought he wanted for a life with Mei Lien. However, when I think about Inara and Daniel, I also love them. Their cultural differences weren’t an issue at all, which I hope reflects interracial couples of today and certainly reflects my own belief that at the heart and soul level, we are all the same. When taking a look at both couples together, I loved showing that in this area, at least, our nation has grown and matured. Most of us can see that love is what matters; not skin color, eye color, speech patterns, or even gender.
Your novel uses scenes from the present and the past to tell the story. Was it challenging weaving these two storylines together?
It wasn’t as challenging as you might think. I wrote the entire historical story first. Then I wrote the whole contemporary story. When it was time I wove the two stories together in a way that made the most sense to me. My agent then suggested we weave in a slightly different way…and then my editors suggested yet another way. So, in a way, I guess it did get a little challenging trying to figure out the best way to weave (i.e. should we “see” the event happening in the historical story before the contemporary characters discover it in their research or vice versa?). I think how we landed was the best way and it took several people to get there!
In the novel, there’s a stunning silk sleeve embroidered with a story that ties the past and present together. How did you decide to have a story hidden within that embroidered silk sleeve?
I chose a silk sleeve because my plotting partner, Carol, showed me a framed and embroidered silk sleeve she had purchased as a souvenir in China. I thought it was beautiful and unique so I started researching Chinese embroidery. I fell in love with the artistry and meaning revealed through the symbols on the embroideries. They seemed to me to be communicating something that I would never truly know without intensive research into symbolism, fables, and cultural beliefs. I loved that.
Your novel landed on the USA Today Bestsellers list in December 2015. How did you respond to the news that The Girl Who Wrote in Silk has been so well-received among readers?
I still can’t believe it! This is a dream come true that I truly didn’t think could happen with my debut novel. My first response was an overwhelming feeling of gratitude because so many people had a hand in making this happen: my agent, editors, publicist, marketing team, sales team, everyone at Sourcebooks; all the independent bookstore owners who voted for my book so that it appeared on the Indie Next list, which directly led to readers learning about my book who otherwise wouldn’t have. And then there are the booksellers who read my story and hand sold it to customers; readers who wrote reviews online and told their friends about the book; other authors who told their readers about my story… Truly, so many people had a hand in this achievement and I am so grateful for each and every one.
What do you hope people gain from reading your novel?
I hope people find the story entertaining and thought-provoking. I hope they think about racial issues and how racism is still very much a problem, which I hope leads them to thinking how they might individually make a difference in their own community. I hope readers learn that there are fascinating stories in our history that still impact us today. Most of all, I hope my novel helps readers look at the people around them and see not the color of their skin nor their cultural trappings, but a fellow human with the need for love, joy, and connection.
How many of you have had your heart broken? I’m willing to bet pretty much everyone reading this has their own sad, crushing stories of love lost.
Well, Ning Li of Ning Li Dating has graciously offered to share his first heartbreak – and why, in the long run, he’s grateful for everything that happened with her, even the painful times.
Do you have a heartbreaking story or other guest post you’d like to see here on Speaking of China? Check out the submit a post page to learn more about having your words published here.
You always remember your first real crushing, aching heartbreak. The kind where you don’t sleep, your stomach feels hollow, and food tastes like ash.
Mine actually saved my life.
I’ve always been attracted to white girls my entire life. I grew up in a white town, hung out with white friends, and spoke like a white person.
I look… incredibly Asian.
On the scale of mouse to elephant, I would probably say my Asian eyes are probably about ant-sized.
Tiny, even for an Asian.
Nonetheless, I had a weakness for white girls that looked cute and innocent, like the kind you’d bake cookies with.
While the traditional “hot club girl” was visually (and mentally) stimulating, they were never the types of girls I could see myself sitting by a fireplace with, staring deep into her eyes, and uttering those three words that made your armor disappear.
Which was why when I met Cheerio girl, my brain basically exploded.
It was my junior year at Cornell, and I was at the running club, stretching out.
There were a couple other people there, and then she walked in.
She had green running shorts, a yellow “Cheerio” shirt, and a bouncing, brown ponytail. Freckles dotted her face, and she had big doe eyes that glowed hazel in the sunlight.
Her shirt read “Graham” across the back.
“Oh, you guys are running the Forest Home route? I was just thinking that!”
Smooth, Ning. Smooth.
We got to chatting on the run, and I found out that she’s pre-medical school, a swimmer, and was from a town only an hour away from Ithaca.
We walked back to our dorms together, and I thought to myself, “oh boy Ning, we’re in trouble.”
I saw her a couple times a week for about a month, and I eventually mustered up the courage to stammer through a dinner invitation.
We went to probably the most romantic place you could think of: the dining hall.
There, we were talking about our plans for the weekend when she dropped an anvil on the table that I tried to brush off:
“My boyfriend is coming up to visit …”
It’s okay, I guess we’ll just be friends, I convinced myself.
At the next run, I pulled a sneaky, devilish move that Jesus and my mother would both have been ashamed of.
“Hey, I was thinking of doing a triathlon, and I’m terrible at swimming. Do you think you could give me a few pointers?”
We started meeting at the pool each Thursday, and then going to dinner afterwards.
I started thinking about her. Daydreaming about her.
I looked for her on Facebook under “Graham,” before I face-palmed, realizing that that had been the name of the cereal company, not her last name.
At the end of the semester, we met up after finals to feed the goslings. As we squatted next to the lake, tossing bread onto the grass, my heart hammered.
“What’s going on between us?” I asked.
“I don’t know, Ning… I really like you, but I have my boyfriend…”
“I really like you, too.”
Ugh, were we in middle school or something?
That summer, they broke up, and in the fall, Cheerio girl and I became an item.
We started eating together, doing crosswords together, and one night, cuddling on a worn out sofa and on the edge of sleep, I told her I loved her.
“I love you too.”
Before it started falling apart, we spent the next five years on what felt like a rollercoaster ride.
It would be all love, daisies, and fuzzy warm blankets for a couple weeks, and then it would crash into jealousy, insecurity, and tears the next.
Over and over again, like a record on repeat.
For what it’s worth, we went on some life-changing adventures together.
I brought her to China.
We met each other’s families.
We went on two cross-country bicycle tours.
We went on vacation together.
We ran races together.
I visited her in Nicaragua on her study abroad semester.
Her family brought me to Mexico with them.
I thought that I was going to marry this girl.
When she moved to Buffalo, we naturally tried to make the distance thing work. I’d drive up one weekend a month, and she would come down the next.
One weekend when I was up, she was taking a test, and I was packing to go, when I noticed a note she had written, lying in a box.
Something about that note didn’t feel right.
I felt like a slug for snooping, but I took it out, and as I read, I felt more and more pressure on my chest.
She had written this to some guy in medical school, and she told him that she liked feeling his body next to her.
In a jealous rage, I leapt in my car and sped the three hours back to Ithaca. I left her a scathing voicemail, and alternated between screaming and sobbing on the phone to my sister the whole way back.
I sat on my porch and stared, a hollow, empty gargoyle.
Ten minutes later, she got out of her car and sat down next to me.
“Did you hook up with him?”
Her eyes flickered.
“No, Ning. It’s nothing. I care about us, I care about you.”
I was desperate to believe her, so I did.
When we stopped having sex, she told me it was because she was stressed and tired from med school.
When she made plans to do a “Floating Doctors” program in Panama that summer, she swore that med school guy was in the same program purely by coincidence.
Again, I was desperate, so I believed her.
I was an idiot.
At times, even when she told me she loved me, I knew that it was a wish, not a declaration.
Looking back, I learned my lesson.
A lie isn’t necessarily a manipulation as much as an agreement. To be lied to, you have to believe the lie.
Crushed, heart broken, and lost, I decided to pull some “Eat, Pray, Love” shit and go on a cross-country bicycle ride on my own.
Across New York, Ohio, and Indiana I cried.
I should’ve been having the adventure of a lifetime, meeting people and seeing places, but all I did was cry.
My lowest point came one night as I was camped out on Carlisle Lake just east of St. Louis. I remember the moon was full, and despite being on the shore of a serene reservoir, there were no mosquitoes.
She skyped me from Panama, and on the phone with her, I cracked and had a nervous breakdown.
All I could think was, she would’ve loved this place.
“I miss you so much,” I told her over and over again.
Having a good crying session is like having a lollipop. It always makes things better, at least for a little bit.
It wasn’t until the middle of Kansas that I started feeling better.
I met a wonderful family in the middle-of-nowhere town of Riley, Kansas that took me in, fed me, and listened to my stories.
I played X-box with their son, played basketball with the father, and they even let me drive around town in their golf cart.
It was one of those magical traveling moments where you realize that no matter how different people are, no matter how strange their culture, they are humans just like you and me.
In the middle of the sprawling, barren Kansas prairie, I thought to myself, I’m finally recovered.
It had taken almost 1,500 miles on a bicycle, but I finally felt whole again.
Naturally, the next day she Skyped me.
“What do you think about me flying in to Denver and joining you for the rest of your trip?”
She was supposed to go to Peru after Panama. Apparently she had had a change of heart.
How was I supposed to say no to that?
We spent the rest of the summer camping in the desert, climbing mountains, and falling back in love.
“Okay, let’s finally make this work,” we told each other.
When we flew back from San Francisco, I moved to Buffalo.
We lived a mile away from each other, and in November, she finally came clean.
She had been hooking up with this med school guy all throughout the spring, all through Panama, and had been lying to me about it for 8 months.
I couldn’t take it anymore. I had moved to a shit-hole city, taken a shit-hole job, all for what? For this?
I told her it was over.
I moved back to Ithaca, got my old job back, and focused on one thing: moving forward.
I got some graduate school interviews, and started filling the void inside me with a slew of meaningless hook-ups and one night stands.
In June, I stopped my overstuffed van at her house in Buffalo, ready to say good-bye one last time.
We both cried it out, and finally I headed off to Colorado, where I was to start my life anew at a PhD program in Fort Collins.
From the ground up, I built my social circle and created my universe. I immersed myself in my studies and started dating again.
I felt whole.
Cheerio girl still called and we still talked, but she was seeing someone and I was seeing someone.
I was happy, and I told her that after all was said and done, I was grateful for everything that happened.
I was grateful for all that we had been through together.
I was grateful for the challenges she brought me.
I was grateful for having the chance to grow and become stronger than who I was.
I was grateful because hey, what’s life without a couple curve balls, right?
A year later, she called me and said something surprising…
“Hey, I know that you’re seeing someone and I am, too, but I got a residency interview in Denver in January. Do you want to hang out, and maybe climb a mountain or something?”
I replied with one word.
Ning Li blogs, and writes dating advice for Asian American men at Ning Li Dating (http://ninglidating.com), and currently resides in Fort Collins, Colorado.
Betty of Betty Has A Panda has lived happily with Mr. Panda in Vienna, Austria for over seven years. But they’re not married — and it has led to lots of uncomfortable questions, including questions Betty has asked herself.
Do you have a story you’d like to share here on Speaking of China? We’re always on the lookout for terrific guest posts. Check out the submit a post page for more on how to have your writing featured here.
I am tired. Tired of all the ‘Why are you not married? Do you want to break up?” questions, or the pronouncements of ‘Oh, he is ONLY your boyfriend!’ Tired of explaining our allegedly ‘not-so-serious’ relationship and why we are not married (yet). While I think that this little detail of saying ‘I do!’ is not of any concern to anyone, I do not want to see others belittle our relationship just because we did not seal our relationship in front of a random registrar (yet). Is our relationship not worth as much as that of someone who is already married? This could be due to varied reasons, liberal worldviews, no bureaucratic obstacles, or bad role models. Beyond doubt, not being married does not make our relationship less worthy, and to answer all of those questions: we do not plan to break up. Not now, and also not in the future. Why would we date and live together for more than seven years now? Mr. Panda and I have our reasons to shack up.
Let me start at the beginning. Parents’ relationships can sometimes be a disastrous example to their children, which can make it hard for their children to connect with others – emotionally and legally. Mr. Panda’s parents are not exactly how I would imagine devoted parents. You could actually say they are as loving and caring as a metal scouring pad. Mr. Panda was the unplanned latecomer, and was therefore always made responsible for all troubles brewing in Chinese parent’s fragile marriage. Albeit they already split up three times before Mr. Panda was born, and came back together again. Mean teasing and verbal insults were on top of their daily agenda — not what one might expect in a loving and caring relationship. Of course divorce is absolutely prohibited. Instead, they continue to live with each other, leaving both their children emotionally crippled und almost unable to be in a working relationship with someone.
On top of that, only soon after Mr. Panda and I started dating, another event aggravated Mr. Panda’s beliefs in the whole social construct called marriage. As another blow of fate, Mr. Panda’s older brother, married to a woman from the Middle East with two children, filed for divorce due to cultural and personal disagreements – and told his parents only six months later. He had been married for quite some time, but sadly, in the end, it did not work out. While both of them separated without any bad feelings, the parents’ world collapsed. Mr. Panda’s mom cried for weeks, begging and commanding them not to separate, but naturally nothing helped. Soon after, the former wife moved out, and cracked the last intact pieces of Mr. Panda’s mom’s picture of a perfect family. I consoled her for weeks, trying to put her sorrows about her grandchildren at ease. Her faith in functioning marriages was busted, and as a result Mr. Panda is even more scared now. He is not scared that our relationship will break apart. But the only two marriages around him just did not work out. The reason why he did not propose to me so far? He is scared our relationship might end after marriage, and to a certain degree I can understand his (baseless) anxiety.
What is my excuse? I was busy with my studies, and time just flew by far too fast. Just in a blink of an eye, many years passed by. Up until now, I did not really care whether we said ‘I do!’ or not. We had no need to rush because we are not in desperate need of a visa. We are not pressured to do so because of some religious beliefs. We just spend our days happily together.
But this year, one thing led to another. I found out about the big AMWF community on the internet, which was all about happily married (intercultural) couples with their beautiful wedding photos. Furthermore, we were invited to a summer wedding by one of my friends, and another one of my good friends got engaged. Thanks to these events I also developed an urge to marry Mr. Panda, and I started to believe that it would actually draw us closer together.
It is a fact that nothing in our relationship will change after we marry. We will both live our lives together as we did up until now. We will both be just as serious about us being happy together and passionate about our relationship as we are now. We both will be the same individuals as ever. And still, here I am, apparently forgetting my liberal beliefs, letting my modern world break down over a marriage certificate I don’t need, while I am waiting for him to take the first step.
The last few months, we talked elaborately about this topic, I tried to discuss his fears and about how we both felt about marriage. But as expected, he did not want to talk about his feelings. Our conversations were rather rational. However, some time ago, he confessed to me that he was thinking about us and our future very hard for quite some time now. He asked me to be patient — that I should wait a little more — making me all excited. Hopefully, traumatized Mr. Panda can gather all his courage soon and will finally propose.
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