Today, I’m sharing a short story a reader shared about her white American daughter Jessica, who she introduced to a lovely young Chinese man that has brought happiness to the both of them.
Do you have a story about love or anything else you think would fit this blog? Have a look at the submit a post page and then contact me today with your ideas or draft submission.
My daughter Jessica is as American peaches and cream as you get, and James, who has been in the U.S. for two years, is shy, a little awkward, respectful, brilliant and just a bit goofy. He and my daughter share a love of cats, music, Volkswagen Beetles, and all things anime and “cute.” They text off and on all day and never run out of things to say.
Ordinarily I’d be a little reluctant to let my daughter, who is in her late teens, get close to someone four years older, but James is as innocent as she is (they’ve both never dated anyone before), and I got to know James pretty well over the past couple of years and actually introduced him to my daughter.
Right after I introduced them, a group of us went to dinner for my birthday. Jessica was very shy and withdrawn. And James, knowing that Jessica’s favorite music group is Owl City, arranged with the restaurant somehow to play only Owl City music the entire time. A couple of weeks ago he bought her Hello Kitty Converse shoes, and Jessica reciprocated by giving him no-bake cookies (which I got to make, since Jessica tends to burn things up when she cooks – LOL). Next came snacks from the Asian market that James determined were all “cute,” and banana bread (baked by me, of course) was Jessica’s next thank-you offering. I’ve told her it’s okay to accept these things from James as long as she remembers to show him kindness as well and not just accept gifts as her due.
I have no idea what will happen in the future, but I love this young man and how well he treats both me and my daughter.
I wish I could tell every young Chinese man out there, both in the U.S. and in China, not to give up hope; that there are, indeed, lovely young American women who think Chinese men are desirable and fun, girls who think these young men are exactly what a man should be. Girls who are wise enough to look at a person’s heart and character instead.
What if the love you always hoped for never came to be, despite how hard you tried to make it happen? That’s what happened to an anonymous woman who desperately loved a young Chinese man who went to her university. She shares their story in this emotional post.
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Five and a half years ago, I met you for the first time when I went out to eat at a small Chinese restaurant with my grandmother. It was a magical moment to me even still today.
I was much younger then, fresh out of high school and going to a little community college. You had just moved to America to start at the university soon. I was in the same boat; about to transfer into the same university, but also in a poor and unhappy relationship.
The moment I saw you, you looked at me and smiled, even though it was an obligatory smile to the customer, I felt that smile all the way to my toes, and I remember blushing so hard I thought my head might pop.
You wore glasses just like me, I still remember they were circle frames, and you looked so handsome. You kind of reminded me of Harry Potter, because that was still pretty big then, right? But you were also Chinese, and you didn’t speak much.
Oh, but I tried so hard to talk to you. I tried really, really hard.
I had already learned some Chinese beforehand, but you renewed it. I started bringing a dictionary every time my grandmother and I ate there. When I turned 20, I wrote it out, in Chinese, telling you it was my birthday. I remember you smiling a little but you still never talked to me.
Then one day you did talk to me. As we talked a little bit, you made me love a culture I knew so little about a little bit more, because you were a part of it. I wanted to know more. I wanted to know you.
I fell in love.
My relationship ended. I looked for you. I tried. I couldn’t have done more than if I waved a flag in your face that said, “Please, ask me out!”
I knew you liked me. I saw it on your face. The way you acted. How you talked when you said hello. How you smiled at me differently than the other customers when I would come in. How you would ask the other servers to trade with you so you could have me at your table and you could sit and talk. How close you would get to me even though it was in front of my grandmother. You even started testing my Chinese, seeing what new I might have learned on my own.
But, you never asked me out.
Then someone else did, someone else took the chance and asked me out. I remember thinking about you. I thought about how no matter how much I tried, or poked, or talked, or bugged, or wrote sweet things in my poor attempts at Chinese, you didn’t want to ask me out. So I said yes.
Then you actually asked me out, after I had already said yes! You asked me to go shopping with you, because you needed a new jacket for winter and didn’t know where to go. You waited too long and I said yes.
But I went shopping with you anyways. I explained that since I was just helping you find a good store, it would be ok. I remember how fun we had had. How well we had gotten along. All the misunderstandings when we tried talking but you would reassure me that it was ok. It was so perfect and fun.
But I had already said yes to someone else, and it ended that day.
When I told you that I intended to go out with the guy, because I had said yes, you never talked to me again. Never.
Then I had gone to the college with the one I said yes to one day. I was helping him reregister for school because he wanted to go back. You were there in the office, and you looked up, surprised to see me there with him. I remember seeing you, and remembering how hard I had fallen for you. I made myself swallow it all down, because I cared about the man I was sitting next to as well. I had already made my choice and commitment. But you smiled at me, and came over to us, and talked to us. You mostly talked to him, I remember that. But it made me so happy to talk to you again. And then you let me exchange phone numbers with you again. Our friendship felt like it was at least renewed. I tried to approach it as just friends.
But for three years, we never really talked again. Not much. We ran into each other often, chatted a little, and would catch up.
Then last year, you surprised me. You did something out of the ordinary. You called me on the phone, and told me that you had a gift for me. It was so surprising. You wanted me to go out to lunch with you and catch up.
My god, I said yes! I didn’t care, I missed you so much.
We talked for hours, all night. We went out again, and again, at least 5 more times. We talked about the past, about everything we had done. We talked about the one time that we had gone out and how awkward it had been.
Then I told you how badly I had wanted you to ask me out. Then you confessed that you had thought I was so cute and it was sweet that I would eat every Sunday with my grandmother. You told me that all your coworkers had teased you and questioned you why you had never asked me out. Who cares if I had had a boyfriend at first, they told you. I clearly liked you more and I was unhappy. You even told me, you remember seeing us together and that I never stopped looking at you the whole time. You said how mean he had been towards me from the moment I had come inside. You remembered all of that.
You told me you had never realized how much I had liked you. You always assumed I wouldn’t want to go out with you. You laughed as we talked, because you couldn’t believe how foolish you were to not have noticed.
But now it was too late.
Every date we went on, you were more attentive then the last. You went back to teaching me about your culture. You told me things that I should know before I went to China. You even scolded me for using my chopsticks improperly but were impressed that I could use them so well. You called me a Chinese girl in disguise when I explained some of my beliefs and dreams and hopes. I told you how my number one dream was to be a mother and good wife. You liked that. You didn’t think many American girls wanted that anymore. You liked that I wanted to be a teacher, and I liked you just sharing things with me about your childhood and your past and what your home was like.
Then you came to me one night online, after seeing me so often now. I wanted to go out again soon. I wanted to show you a great place to go hiking and have picnics. It was my favorite place in the world. I told you, you could bring friends here. We could bring friends too.
But you stopped me.
You told me you had gone to talk to one of your professors. “I asked my professor if it was wrong for me to want to try and take a girl from her boyfriend,” you said. “I never hung out with you in the past as much as I have these last few weeks. I never realized what a great a girl you are. You are a lot like Chinese girls. I really like you. I want you to be my girlfriend.”
You said that to me, and I didn’t know what to say at first.
Then you continued, and told me, “But I respect your boyfriend. I like him. He is a good man and you seem happy with him, I’m not going to talk to you anymore after today. We shouldn’t be friends. I had fun together though.”
I cried for hours. Every time I thought about you, my eyes watered and I had to swallow the pain I felt deep in my chest. I cared for and loved my boyfriend. But my feelings for you had never changed. They had never died. I know and feel I can only blame myself. But I’ve chosen my path and I can’t stray from it. Some things have to be set in stone.
But here I am writing this right now. That’s because tonight, tonight I re-lived that moment I first met you 5 and a half years ago.
You walked into the store I work at now. You turned and looked at me, with shock in your eyes, and a smile creeping onto your lips. A smile spread across mine, and I felt the tingle in my toes again. For a brief moment, I felt that giddy feeling again of seeing you.
And you talked to me.
I told you it was my last semester of college, and it was yours too. But I had customers I had to take care of. You wanted to linger. You skirted around, trying to talk to me. But I was busy. So I smiled, and I said, “You can message me online.”
But then your smile was gone.
You looked away, just briefly and told me “I can’t, not anymore.” The pain came back again. My hurt came back, but I just smiled it off. “Are you seeing someone now?” I asked you. You said yes. “That’s great,” I said. You still lingered though, you wanted to talk to me more. I could see it. When the line formed again you apologized and left, with a short good bye. You didn’t even buy the thing you had come in to buy.
So I swallowed my pain.
The customer looked at me and asked, “Is he your boyfriend? You two really seem to have a connection.” I didn’t know what else to say but, “No, we just used to be good friends.
Tonight, I am here crying over you again.
I don’t know what else to do but to cry and accept the fact that all that remains between us is gone. Not even a friendship remains. In a year I will leave for japan. I don’t know where you will be after your graduation. You were still trying to stay in America, but you know you may return to China for good as well.
I can only hope and pray you are happy, and that I made the right choices. That, eventually, whatever it is that I still feel for you will go away one day. That it will become just another fond distant, sometimes painful, memory.
Sometimes you never know where a relationship — or unexpected pregnancy — will take you. For the anonymous author of this post, hers led to a baby son and, later, papers from her boyfriend’s lawyer.
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“It’s a joke,” I declare, staring at my pregnancy test, seeing a plus sign in one window and a line in another one. The line fades away. I pick up instructions, studying the text, but no matter how it looks, if both windows have lines, pregnancy is imminent.
“It’s a joke, a joke.”
Years ago, I would have wanted to find myself pregnant. Not because I was ready, but simply because it would have been with someone I loved. That day, little did I know that I would fall into a bottomless pit of my relationship with the father of my baby.
Fast forward to few weeks later. The doctor confirmed my pregnancy as my boyfriend, my mother and I come back for an ultrasound to find out the age of my baby. That day I was instructed to drink a lot of water few hours before and not go to the bathroom. Disbelief settled inside as I watched women enter with their husbands/boyfriends. I wondered how it will be to see my child on the screen, and what my child will look like.
Finally, my mother, my boyfriend and I enter into the ultrasound room. I recall undressing, a generous amount of special lube being squeezed onto my belly and without preamble I see my baby, the size of a small pea. Then a loud sound begins echoing throughout the room, fast beats that sound almost frog-like. The baby’s heartbeat, I realize, stunned at the idea that my baby has developed a heartbeat. I turn to my boyfriend, wondering if he is sharing in my emotions, but he is blank. When I asked him, he says something like this is routine for him, which disappoints me greatly. I learn that the baby is younger than thought; seven or so weeks instead of nine.
Days become months, and the seasons pass. My boyfriend is busy with nursing school, dealing with what I will call the “mid-life” crisis minus the motorcycle and a 6’0 foot tall Amazon blonde who whispers sweet forevers. I live with my parents as I check my phone, seeing texts sometimes but not everyday as I hope.
He should text more. He should care more.
I am expecting our first child and find myself feeling guilty and uncertain that things have turned out the way they did. His first words when I mentioned my pregnancy? “It’s not the right time, not the right time.” I grind my teeth. Tell that to our child who has no concept of time and continues to grow. Babies, as I learned, have a very poor sense of timing.
My feelings towards him are less and less certain and become more conflicted. In some cases he and my mom disagree. For example, the changing table. He is unemployed, but seems to have savings. Yet he sees no need to spend money on a changing table. His solution? Use newspapers on the sofa to change our child. (Luckily my father’s friend lent us a changing table, thus the idea of newspapers on sofa is nixed.) School work comes first, I come last, almost an afterthought. “If he has time to eat and go to the bathroom, then he has time to text you,” my mother tells me. “Not an excuse.” I agree. Really hard to argue with that logic.
One of my favorite days of the year is the day I gave birth. What is interesting is that our child’s birth is the anniversary of when my boyfriend first arrived in America. Perhaps those two days are the last time I felt connected and happy with him.
Afterwards, little by little we descended into Dante’s nine circles of hell.
While the birth was easy thanks to an epidural, the aftermath is a war. I begin the losing battle of breast-feeding our son. The reason my boyfriend supports me? “It’s cheaper than buying formula.” What about the baby’s health and all those benefits? “That, too,” he adds as an afterthought.
After the birth, my body is shattered, battered, even requiring a gallbladder surgery where I had to spend my first mother’s day in a hospital. My boyfriend was only there afterwards and not when I needed him the most; before the surgery.
My mind tries to adjust to having a crying infant in the house that needs me every two hours to feed him and change his diapers. My boyfriend is forty minutes away, yet school and studies in nursing consume all his thoughts. I barely sleep as I need to get up and feed my son formula during the night. He comes once a week, maybe once every few weeks. “Please help me at night,” I ask him one day. “I need my sleep,” he says. What about me, I want to ask him. Don’t I need my sleep as well? I have a son to take care of, yet instead I am concerned about his interactions with our son because he tends to seem distant. I catch him spending more time on the computer rather than interacting with our child.
The roles become 1950s, that of a workaholic father and a stay-at-home mother trying to keep sane. We drift further and further apart as I begin to feel my needs are not being met. In addition, my parents begin to point out qualities about him that I wish I could excuse or not even notice. Our dates consist of Wal-Mart, a local Chinese supermarket and restaurants. I am closed off in front of the impenetrable wall that he is, and I feel as if I cannot share my innermost self with him for fear of being ignored or rebuffed. We get together but instead of words, food speaks to us. It is an isolating experience where I enjoy the taste far more than his company.
An accumulation of hurt, pain and distance take a toll when all becomes unleashed later that year, the last time he and I were truly happy together. As we walk around the lake, all that came to me is the idea of fireworks, the last happy moments before hell is unleashed in Chinese Paladin as well as Dream of the Red Chamber before death enters into the picture.
Summer weather teases the senses with heat as he asks me about moving to an island overseas. He got offered a great job. There’s a huge relocation bonus if my son and I travel there with him.
No, I answer him. The baby will be too young. There will be diseases there like Hepatitis A, typhoid. There’s the threat of hurricanes and earthquakes and tsunamis, plus, only two hospitals for the entire island.
After listening, he threatens to take our son there.
I am at loss for words. Has he said what I thought he said? He didn’t. He couldn’t. Yet the words paralyzed me.
He says he wants to be family, and wants to be together. His mother traveled from Massachusetts to where I live and gave me bracelets as a dowry along with a bunch of gifts for our son.
Yet he threatened the unthinkable.
Weeks later, money divides us further as misunderstandings arise about how much to pay my family child support. Even though his second offer was acceptable to me, I discovered I’m late in answering him – he has already called in a lawyer.
I call him and beg him to get rid of the lawyer; I agreed to his second sum payment. “It’s out of my hands, out of my hands,” he repeats over and over to my pleas.
I hang up the phone, angry and frightened by the possibility of a lawsuit.
Days later, I get the papers served. He is in the house as a witness to my emotions. I countersue him back for child support, to show him that in this one instance, I will not be cowered down.
Thus ended our relationship, broken by misunderstandings and greed.
Editor’s note: the anonymous author of this post is still fighting to keep her son.
My husband and I were having dinner the other night at a vegetarian restaurant in Hangzhou. It just so happens that you were dining only a few feet across from us with your girlfriend.
When we first sat down, I saw the both of you enjoying a bowl of the sour and spicy vegetarian “fish” soup with pickled vegetables. I remembered how delicious that dish was, and how I hadn’t ordered it in a long time. I thought to myself, those girls have good taste.
But that was before my husband and I overheard your conversation.
You told your friend about how dissatisfied you were with your boyfriend. You said his salary of “only” 8,000 RMB a month wasn’t good enough. You flicked your expensively dyed long hair aside with great disdain as you said, “He can’t possibly support me.”
Your girlfriend, wearing black faux-leather leggings and stiletto-heeled boots just like you, nodded in agreement.
The two of you went on to belittle this young man, who you fell in love with in college, for another reason. His hometown was somewhere outside of Hangzhou. It was yet another black mark against him. Yet more proof he would never be “rich enough” for you.
I’ve heard this sort of thing before.
Years ago I learned that, for many people in China, marriage is all about having a home, car and money. I understand that women often evaluate men based on these marriage must-haves. I’m aware that there was even a girl on TV who once famously said she’d rather be crying in the back of a BMW than smiling on the back of a bicycle.
There’s a woman in China who once told me, “The purpose of life and marriage is to make money.” On the surface, she has it all. She and her husband own at least five apartments, drive a brand new BMW, have a son, and earn lots of money through the family business.
But privately, she is the saddest woman I have ever met.
She is bitter and constantly complains. Despite her huge bank accounts, she is stingy to the core. Her husband has cheated on her; she fights with him all the time. Her son is on the way to becoming a juvenile delinquent. For a time, things were so bad that she actually threatened to commit suicide.
I would not be surprised if she had cried in the backseat of her shiny new BMW.
Never would I wish to change places with this woman, even though she has so much money. I’ve realized I’m actually happier than she ever will be. There are far more important things in life her money can never buy. A peaceful, happy marriage. Love. Friendship. Kindness. Generosity. The ability to see hope in the darkest hours.
You can’t measure these things in dollars or yuan. I don’t care what that woman once told me – money isn’t everything. It never was.
So if you decide to break up with this guy just because he makes ￥8,000 a month and isn’t from Hangzhou, there’s nothing I can do to stop you.
If you end up marrying a wealthier man, maybe you’ll get lucky. Maybe he’ll be a nice guy who just happens to be rich.
But if he isn’t so nice after all, then maybe you’ll discover what it’s really like to have tears in your eyes in the back of your luxury car.
And if that happens, believe me when I say this: I won’t be crying for you.
I was shocked to learn your steady Asian boyfriend of several years had left you.
Even though we’ve never met in person, I feel like you’re an old friend. Maybe that’s because we’ve both been in interracial relationships with Asian men. Or because I came to know you through what you shared with me over the years. Or even because you’ve supported me when I needed it most.
So I don’t think it’s enough to just say, “I’m sorry.” Sorry is such a small word, and small comfort. Honestly, I would rather give you hugs, just holding you the way friends have for me when I’ve weathered breakups.
Although I wasn’t the one on the receiving end of this experience, I could feel your heartbreak in the messages you sent to me. I know what it’s like. I’ve had Asian boyfriends break up with me out of the blue. I’ve spent days, even weeks, mourning the loss of a relationship.
One Chinese guy left me after studying abroad in Europe; he just couldn’t manage the distance. Another said goodbye to me because his parents could never accept a foreign girl. There was also that young man studying in Nanjing who I was smitten with for months; things never got off the ground because his parents insisted he marry a Chinese girl. That felt almost as bad as a breakup.
All of these were relationships I desperately wanted to continue. They did not.
With every breakup or rejection, my heart shattered. Somehow, it felt even harder to carry this sadness with me in China. When these Chinese men said goodbye to me, sometimes I wondered if the country was doing the same. Especially when family got in the way. Why did his family have to stand in the way of love?
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.
So I’m living in China with my boyfriend. We have lived in China for the majority of our relationship, and I am learning Chinese full time. His little sister is getting married next week and as a consequence his Mom takes every opportunity to ask me when we are going to get married. There are some reasons this sits uncomfortably with me:
1. It is assumed that we are getting married but we haven’t really talked about it openly. 2. I would kind of like the surprise proposal if we ever did get married, and being constantly asked about this completely spoils that. 3. His mother obviously assumes that because I have lived here for a few years now I’m going to stay here forever (which I’m more and more certain that I don’t want to do).
His mother’s questions are so direct that it’s impossible to answer vaguely, and so I’m at risk of stepping on some cultural sensitive points, when really, she’s the last person I want to be talking about it with (before me and my boyfriend have even talked about it properly).
She thinks that I should stay in China and teach English and that’s the end of the story – so I had to tell her that I don’t necessarily want to stay in China for the rest of my life. How can I put this message across to her more politely without offending her, and giving her the idea that actually, me and my boyfriend need to talk about it without family pressure bothering us?
I hate to say this, but welcome to Chinese culture — where everyone is in your face about things that we consider highly personal and private. Like marriage and having babies and even where you plan to live. (See my past Ask the Yangxifu column on Dealing With “How Come You Aren’t Married Yet?”)
Every time I go back home to John’s hometown we always get asked, “When are you having kids?” There’s nothing we can do or say to stop people (mostly family) from inquiring about it. They will ask! Trying to explain or tell them not to will create misunderstandings or even put a dent in our relationship. It’s just not worth it.
Instead, here’s my suggestion — don’t take it too seriously. Really. As personal and and imposing as the questions might feel, the reality is that people often ask as a way to show care or concern (not unlike asking about someone’s health).
Sometimes I’m even convinced my family members ask us about having kids because it gives them something to talk about!
Next time his mom asks when you’re getting married, the best way to answer is “Soon!” (快了，快了! Kuài le，kuài le!). Chances are that will satisfy her and she won’t trouble you anymore.
My husband and I always say “soon” whenever someone asks when we’re going to have kids. But guess what? We’re NOT having kids any time soon. And yet, every time we answer like this, it really works. They stop asking about it!
So just smile and say “Soon!”
You could take a similar approach to all of the questions about staying in China. Just tell her, “Okay, we will think it over.” (好的，我们考虑考虑。Hǎo de，wǒmen kǎolǜ kǎolǜ.) It’s not a lie because you have thought it over (or are thinking it over). And again, chances are she’ll feel happy about your answer and change the subject.
Maybe this isn’t the answer you hoped for. But I’ve just found that you’re better off responding to questions like these with a positive and vague response. The positive part makes them happy, the vague part means you’re not actually promising anything. And here’s the thing – in Chinese culture, people are comfortable with vagueness and uncertainty. In all likelihood, nobody’s going to follow up and ask “How soon?” or “When?”
Instead, they’ll probably just move on to something else and you’ll be safe. (Until the next conversation, at least!)
What do you think? What advice do you have?
Do you have a question about love, dating, marriage or family in Chinese or Western culture? Send me yours today.
A few years back when I co-wrote an article titled Western Wives, Chinese Husbands (exploring what it’s like to date and marry Chinese men), we touched on the subject of money — specifically, that sometimes Western women end up being the breadwinner in the family.
I was reminded of that when I first read this post from Judith (who blogs in Dutch at Judith In China). She’s from the Netherlands and currently dating a Beijing local (who she considers her perfect match). But, “Even though I don’t earn much at all, own a house or car, or have savings worth mentioning, I am much more economically stable than he will probably ever be.”
I grew up in a middle-class family in a small town in the Netherlands. My two siblings and I basically had everything we could wish for. We went on modest holidays within the country once a year, got nice birthday gifts and our parents supported us throughout our studies. My boyfriend was born a one-child-policy son and grew up in Beijing’s hutongs. His parents are real lǎobǎixìng; his mother used to sell bus tickets and his father worked as the repair man for a large hotel. Although his parents cared for him much, they lived in one room without private sanitation. Some days all his father could afford for lunch was to share a pancake with his son.
Although our backgrounds couldn’t have been more different, we really are a perfect match.
I have been interested in Chinese language and culture since I was a little girl, and he has been crazy about Western music and culture since he first encountered it in Beijing’s early nineties. I have never had a preference for Asian men or an interest in the AMWF community, on the contrary: if you would have told me a few years ago that I would end up with a real Beijing boy I probably wouldn’t have believed you. When we met, my Chinese wasn’t that great and he didn’t speak much English, but we have been in a loving relationship for over five years now. He is very caring, makes me laugh, and makes me feel like the most beautiful girl on the planet despite being so much whiter, taller and larger than those cute Chinese girls. Most of all, he makes me feel safe.
There is one thing that keeps coming up in our relationship though. I wouldn’t call it a problem, but it is definitely something coming from our different backgrounds that will probably always linger right below the surface. Even though I don’t earn much at all, own a house or car, or have savings worth mentioning, I am much more economically stable than he will probably ever be. His attraction to Western music made him choose to become a professional musician. And although I really believe he is one of the most talented musicians in China and truly has the talent to make a stable income from his profession, it’s not easy in this industry and especially not in China.
When we met, my boyfriend was the member of a rather famous band, but he quit shortly after we became a couple. Since then he has been working on various projects on and off, some of which are more profitable than others. This means that his income was quite OK for the last two years. Although he didn’t earn millions he had frequent gigs, and combined with my stable salary I felt we were quite well off. This year however, there have been some changes in the projects he has been working on and he has barely made any money. At the same time we are looking to get married, but the only thing holding us back is not wanting to spend all my savings on an (even simple) wedding.
In some ways my boyfriend can be very traditional. As the man in the family, he feels horrible about me being the main breadwinner, and this year even supporting him to a certain extent. He doesn’t want to speak about it too much and doesn’t want to let me know how he feels, but I sense it more and more. I don’t mind sharing my income with him. We’re a team and should he one day become world famous I’m sure he would share his wealth with me just the same. But if I offer to buy him new clothes as a present, nicer lunches for him when we don’t eat together or suggest to go on a weekend trip, he says he doesn’t need it. He prefers to wear the same old shoes, eat a 10 kuai bowl of noodles for lunch and not travel much.
I feel this also has to do with a Western approach to finding a good balance between saving and enjoying your money, while he feels that we should not spend much until we’re in a better financial position. And then things such as marriage and buying a house would come first. Whereas I feel that although we shouldn’t spend all our money on an expensive holiday abroad, we can allow ourselves to enjoy an occasional weekend away within China, for example. He doesn’t want me to spend that kind of money for the both of us if he can’t contribute much or anything at all. Which means that I visit friends in other cities and he doesn’t join me, or that I go to a café to work while enjoying a latté and a sandwich while he just eats his bowl of noodles for lunch. He simply does not want to join me, even if I explicitly say I want him to.
I feel bad for him feeling this way, because I don’t see his financial situation as a problem. I fell in love with him because of the man he is, not because I thought that one day cash would come flowing in because of his profession and I wouldn’t have to worry about money anymore. I guess this is a very different perspective compared to many Chinese girls, as they often think in practical terms first when it comes to relationships (such as Ted highlighted in his excellent guest post on this blog titled “What I’ve Learned from 15 Blind Dates in China”).
I hope my boyfriend will someday get used to how I feel and that he can find a way to accept that his girlfriend’s income will probably always be more stable than his.
Judith lives and works in China and blogs about her daily life and the special things she encounters at judithinchina.com(in Dutch).
“Nervous” doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt when I was about to meet John’s parents in rural Hangzhou for the first time. After all, once John told his parents he was dating me, his father famously told him that while he could be friends with a foreign girl, but shouldn’t date her.
Meeting the parents inspires all sorts of anxiety no matter where you live in the world – but even more so when you’re a foreigner and you’re about to meet the parents of your Chinese boyfriend or girlfriend here in China. On top of all the usual pitfalls, you’re also dealing with a different culture, language and living customs. It’s like getting ready for an exam when you don’t even know the entire curriculum.
Fortunately, I’ve survived meeting the parents. And I’ve heard from a lot of others who have successfully made it through. Here are 6 tips I’ve learned over the years to help you prepare for meeting the parents in China:
1. Ask your girlfriend or boyfriend all about their parents
There’s always a story behind everyone’s parents. Why not find out? It’s a great way to get to know them before you actually meet them and figure out potential ways to bond with them.
I always wish I had done this before I first met John’s parents. Maybe then I would have figured out how much his mom loves to cook – just like me — and asked to watch her in the kitchen more? Or that his dad likes to read classic Chinese texts – which I’m always interested in — so I could have asked him about, say, Confucianism or Taoist stories.
2. Learn everything you can about the hometown
One thing I’ve learned from years of living in China? Everyone has a little hometown pride. So if you want to get a little closer to the parents, what better way than to learn about their hometown?
Start with your boyfriend or girlfriend first – they’re your closest experts – and also don’t forget to consult travel guides (which, depending on what attractions/history the hometown has, might tell you something). Most Chinese cities and counties even have Wikipedia pages in English, which might even teach you something your significant other doesn’t know.
3. Prepare gifts for the family
Gift giving is such an important thing in Chinese culture – so important, that you don’t want to show up to your first meeting with the parents without a gift in your hands. Chances are, they’re going to entertain you with a home-cooked dinner and even put you up for the night. There’s no better way to show your appreciation from the moment you enter their home than bearing a present for them.
But if they can’t think of anything – and you’re still stumped about what to purchase – repeat after me: fruit basket. You really can’t go wrong with buying them a nice fruit basket. You’ll find fruit baskets at any major supermarket in China or those fruit stores on the street. Everyone loves them.
4. Learn a few phrases in the local dialect
Mandarin Chinese may be the official language – but chances are, it’s not your girlfriend’s or boyfriend’s mother tongue. The vast majority of people grew up speaking a local dialect. It’s their linguistic equivalent of that comfy pair of jeans you love wearing around the house, and that’s what you’ll probably hear around the dinner table.
Just think how amazed they’ll be if you can master a handful of simple words or phrases in the local dialect! Even if it’s as elementary as “Hello” or “Thank you” you’ll probably have everyone in smiles. Or laughing! After all, you’re probably the first foreigner they’ve ever seen speaking it. (My husband always giggles whenever I try out his local dialect!)
5. Dress casual, comfortable and err on the conservative side
Still, if you want to give Baba and Mama a great first impression, you’re better off leaving your Daisy Dukes and ultra mini-skirts behind. Many Chinese parents feel wary about having foreigners in the family, and stereotypes about foreigners (such as the idea that Western women are promiscuous) only fuel their concerns. Yeah, I know it’s unfair, but that’s the reality.
Look at it this way. Even in Western countries – like the US, my home country – people agonize over what to wear to meet the parents for the first time, enough to write articles about it. Here’s what one of them wrote: “No matter how classy your mini-dress is, his mom will say the skirt was too short.”
Instead, go for something that’s casual, comfortable and on the conservative side. Think nice jeans and T-shirts (with long or short sleeves) or sweaters if it’s cooler out; for summer, you can do nice shorts or skirts just above the knee or below.
My husband is still shocked that I never used to wear long johns under my clothing while growing up in Cleveland, Ohio. Even though I faced a winter that could last as long as four months or more, with below-freezing temperatures and tons of snow, staying warm was never an issue. We had central heating at home and pretty much anywhere we traveled. Even our car had heat.
Meanwhile, my husband’s hometown sits at the very same latitude as New Orleans and Houston, and he’s spent his entire life counting on long johns to help stay warm through the fall, winter and spring. Why? Because he’s used to having no heat inside the house, wherever he is – even in school.
So don’t just look at the weather when you’re packing your bags – ask your girlfriend or boyfriend what it’s actually like in their home. Find out whether they have any heat, including hot water, and if it will be available when you’re there. Also, ask him or her what they usually wear around the house at home.
Here’s a good general rule of thumb – China’s Yangtze river is like the Mason-Dixon line of heating through the country, where North of that people usually have some form of heat provided by the government (they turn it on sometime in November and off sometime in April) and South of that people do without. That said, there are ALWAYS exceptions and it pays to ask ahead of time.
And please, if you’re traveling during the winter months, don’t forget your long johns – trust me!
6. Bring photos
As the old cliché goes, a picture’s worth a thousand words – and who couldn’t use an extra thousand words or two when you’re in front of two parents you’ve never met? Photographs provide a perfect way for you to connect with your significant other’s Baba and Mama without saying a lot. You can show them your family, pictures from your hometown and even the beautiful places you’ve visited. Thanks to the photos I lugged around to my first visit to meet John’s parents, I was able to break the ice with his dad and finally make a connection – enough to make him realize I was the kind of foreign girl worth dating (and, later, marrying).
What has been your experience with meeting the parents? What advice do you have?
What happens when the man you love isn’t from the country and culture that first captured your heart?
That’s the conundrum Linda Dunsmore of Linda Living in China — a self-professed “China fan” — faced when she fell for a man from Korea. She writes, “I was worried because he was Korean, while I was passionate about China…. I kept asking myself, ‘Why do I have to fall in love with a Korean man?'”
I started studying Chinese in 2010, went to China in 2012 for an internship, and also dated a Chinese man (the relationship failed but that is another story). In 2013, I had to return to America to finish my Bachelor’s degree in San Diego, California. Every day, I was still reminiscing about my life in China. I cooked Chinese food, started writing my own blog about China and made almost exclusively Chinese/Taiwanese friends. I was sure to return to China after I graduated.
However, one day, I met someone who changed my life completely.
I remember it like it was yesterday. I was helping a friend to find an apartment in Pacific Beach (San Diego’s party area). She wanted to move in together with two other students from our university. We were going to meet him in front of the apartment and he was also going to bring a few friends to help him. We arrived at the scene and a few minutes later they arrived — our classmate from Turkey plus three Asian guys (including one particularly handsome fellow). I had hoped they would either be Taiwanese or Chinese or even from Hong Kong, and I was super excited. But then I discovered they weren’t from any of these places – they were Korean.
There was something incredibly special about this one handsome Korean guy. He was extremely charming; he even asked me about my heart-shaped sunglasses and mentioned that they were really cute. He had something about him that literally drew me to him. I also noticed how he was also suddenly really interested in me. We started talking every day on Facebook or text messaging. Then, before I knew it we met for our “first date”, which was one of the best nights of my life.
I started to like him more and more, which should have made me feel amazing. Except, I actually felt incredibly worried. I was worried about what would happen if things worked out. I was worried because he was Korean, while I was passionate about China.
I was worried that I was in the “wrong” AMWF relationship.
I know that sounds ridiculous, but not for someone who invested so much of herself and her life into China. I already lived in China before, loved the country, and had finally mastered conversational Chinese. Meanwhile, I knew nothing about Korea and couldn’t speak a word of Korean. I didn’t know what to do and felt horribly confused! I kept asking myself, “Why do I have to fall in love with a Korean man?”
Of course, all of this was my head talking. But the thing is, you don’t love with your head, you love with your heart.
When I searched the depths of my heart, I realized that I fell in love with Jeongsu because of who he is — not because of his race or nationality. In the end, isn’t this what the AMWF community is really all about? We all fall in love with someone because of who he is not because he is Chinese, or Korean or Japanese. These men just happen to be Asian. It doesn’t mean we are completely obsessed with Asian men and strictly ignore all men of other races. It just means we found the right love for us.
Now I work for a Chinese-German company in Hunan, China as I maintain a long-distance relationship with my boyfriend Jeongsu, who is living in Korea. I’ve learned to balance these two parts of my life. While my heart still remains filled with China in so many ways, I’ve started studying Korean, trying Korean foods and reading up about his culture as much as I can. I’m coming to embrace Korean culture just as much as I’ve embraced Chinese culture. I’ve already visited him in Korea twice, including my most recent visit earlier this month. I consider it my second home now and his family my second family — my Korean family.
In the end, life cannot be planned. It always comes out differently than how you thought.
I never expected that my China-obsessed self would fall so hard for a Korean man. But as long as you’re following your heart, there’s no such thing as a “wrong” relationship.
Linda writes about life in China and Korea, her AMWF relationship with a Korean man, traveling around Asia and studying Asian languages at www.lindalivinginchina.com . She is also very active on social media, especially Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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