4 Habits I’ve Learned from my Chinese Husband

Everyone always say marriage changes you. Well, when you marry someone from another culture and country – like I have – you’re bound to change in ways you never would have expected growing up, picking up some of your foreign spouse’s new habits.

What habits have I learned from living all these years with John, my Chinese husband? Here are four of my favorites:

P.S.: This post was first inspired by a question posted on the AMWF Facebook Group Ichiro & Juliet, run by Ranier Maningding (who is also the guy behind The Love Life of an Asian Guy, one of my favorite blogs).

Drinking loose-leaf tea

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Some of my fondest childhood memories include watching my mother bob her teabag up and down in her cup before taking a sip. She introduced me to Orange Pekoe, Earl Grey, chamomile, peppermint and many other fine brews, the tea leaves or herbal blends always neatly wrapped in permeable bags. After all, who would want stray leaves floating around in your a teacup?

Or so I thought, until I arrived in China.

I’ll never forget the first time someone thrust a paper cup of hot steaming tea into my hands, the tea leaves drifting around without a single thing to keep them in place. I stared awkwardly at it, wondering how in the world I was going to drink without swallowing a leaf or having one end up plastered to my front teeth. Could anyone enjoy a cup of tea this way?

Years later, when John moved into my heart and life, he brought along his joy of drinking loose-leaf green tea. You might say it’s in his DNA – he is, after all, from Hangzhou, an area renowned for its world-famous Dragonwell. He never had a filter stand between him and his green tea leaves, and loved it. And, ultimately, he’s the one who helped me learn how to navigate a hot cup of the brew with loose leaves. (It’s a must-have skill in China, where people are always welcoming me with hot cups of loose-leaf tea everywhere I go!)

Now, his habits for drinking green tea (letting the tea sit a few minutes so the leaves begin falling to the bottom, blowing on the surface before taking a sip to keep the leaves away from your lips) have become a daily morning ritual for me. And a real pleasure, because the finest of these teas have complex, nuanced flavors that probably you’ll never enjoy from anything in a teabag.

Using toilet seat covers

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It was early in my relationship with John and we were out shopping in Watson’s, a health and beauty care store that’s so ultra-feminine I swear it repels men with its teal signage and bright pink tags all over the store. John came along with me because it was a weekend and shopping together was one of those things we liked to do (even if it meant bringing John into a store he wouldn’t normally visit without me).

So there I was, going through my long list of Watson’s must-haves (including their luxurious papaya-scented body creams), expecting John to just tag along for the ride, when the sight of one simple product made his eyes shine like two silvery 1 yuan coins.

Toilet seat covers.

“We need one of these,” he said. And he was all serious about it, sifting through the packages and many color options (most of them, admittedly, in pastels like baby blue and powder pink).

I was totally stunned. My family never used fabric toilet seat covers, and the few times I actually saw them (usually in an elderly woman’s home, along with lots of other cutesy décor) made me believe that guys usually ran screaming from the idea of putting one on your toilet.

What I didn’t realize, however, was that John had an incredibly smart reason for buying one – to protect our behinds from the shock an extremely cold toilet seat in the cold. After all, we didn’t have heat in our apartment (like most people in China who live South of the Yangtze River), which did actually make the toilet seat pretty frigid (especially at night).

Admittedly, he was also trying to be a gentleman in suggesting a toilet seat cover. Maybe it’s not a typical Hallmark moment, but worrying about your girlfriend’s butt getting too cold when she pees at night is one way to say “I love you” (albeit an unusual one).

So we bought one (in a pastel color – they were all pastels, so what can you do?) and later that night when nature called, that little piece of fabric between the cold seat and my behind made a big difference. I was hooked.

We’ve been buying toilet seat covers here in China ever since, to the point that now I’m the one reminding him we need one!

Of course, last time we shopped for toilet seat covers, John couldn’t help being the gentleman. He refused my suggestion choose the cheaper brand and instead told me to buy the one with the velvety cushion (pictured above). “It’s more comfortable for your butt,” he said. (Nothing but the best for his wife, right down to her behind! 😉 )

Having soup with fried rice

(photo by cm2003 from http://www.dianping.com/photos/3551102/tag)
(photo by cm2003 from http://www.dianping.com/photos/3551102/tag)

Fried rice always struck me as a perfect meal in itself. Who needs anything else?

Or so I thought, until I met John. I’ll never forget that first time I prepared fried rice for him, when he requested a very specific thing on the side. A bowl of soup.

“Why do we need soup?” I was so tired and desperately hungry that evening, the last thing I wanted to do was fix something else in the kitchen.

“Because fried rice is too dry.”

It never before occurred to me that fried rice could be considered dry. That a side of soup might just balance out the meal in a way I never imagined.

That night, I dug out some instant soup from the cabinet and John was all smiles. Over the years, I kept serving it every time fried rice was on the menu, always to please John. Never did I think that, in the end, I’d come to think that fried rice and soup was one of the best combinations ever.

That’s why, last time we had fried rice for dinner, I was already pulling out the soup before the meal even hit the table. There’s something about the flavor of a nice hot soup (especially miso) that makes fried rice even more delicious.

Wearing slippers inside the house

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When I was growing up in America, we weren’t super-strict about taking our shoes off at the door. I often wandered upstairs still wearing my flats or sneakers and we almost never asked our guests to remove their shoes either (unless it was wintertime, where everybody’s boots were caked in wet snow). And when we weren’t wearing shoes, we opted for socks or went barefoot. In fact, I didn’t really use slippers much until I went off to college, and even then they were just your standard flip-flops for showering in the bathroom down the hall.

All that has changed since I married John. He’s from China and, like most people here, grew up with the habit of removing his shoes at the door and changing into a pair of indoor slippers or flip-flops. He likes this, because it keeps the outside dirt from coming into the house – a perfectly reasonable thing to do. (This, off course, makes me cringe a little when I think about all of the dirt I must have tracked around my family home!)

So now I’m an indoor slipper girl who owns multiple pairs of them. Soft, fuzzy slippers with woolen linings for the wintertime, and airy plastic flip-flops for showering and bumming around the house for the rest of the year.

Removing my shoes at the door has practically become second nature to me; I don’t even think about it and I never, ever ask, “Should I remove my shoes?” (which I used to do in America).

I’ve also become strangely adept at landing my feet perfectly into my slippers whenever I get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. Don’t ask me how I know exactly where they are – call it slipper intuition. 😉

What habits have you learned from your husband/wife or boyfriend/girlfriend?

3 Ideas for Reducing Arguments in Your Cross-cultural Relationship

If you’ve ever thought that John and I had this perfect marriage where nothing ever goes wrong, well, I’m here to burst your bubble.

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This picture may look perfect, but my marriage with John is not — and we’ve had our share of arguments!

You should have seen us a decade ago when we lived in Shanghai and had our share of arguments (including some explosive ones, with yours truly losing her temper and doing lots of yelling). I’m pretty certain I must have given some of our neighbors quite a “show” at times.

Arguments aren’t fun in any relationship, but they can get really ugly when you’re dealing with a cross-cultural relationship. Why? Because sometimes the ways in which we argue – and the things that get us irritated – relate back to culture.

After 10 years of marriage, we’ve learned a thing or two about each other and how to maintain a harmonious cross-cultural relationship – with a lot more happiness and a lot less arguing. Here are three things that have helped us get over arguments:

1.  How you manage anger and even argue can be a cultural thing – and sometimes the differences can set you off unexpectedly

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In my husband’s home, his family has always valued a certain emotional restraint and don’t really show their anger that much. But I’ve seen his family angry – specifically, his brother – and guess how he responded initially? He was silent. Didn’t say a word. (I can tell you, it was a pretty painful silence!)

On the other hand, in the family I grew up in, when you’re angry, you show it – which means you might raise your voice, yell and even go red in the face. I come from a long line of fiery women. We’re an expressive bunch and, when something bad happens, it needs to be hashed out immediately – even if it gets a little emotional.

So you’ve got one emotionally restrained guy who goes silent when he’s upset, with an emotionally expressive woman who vents her anger and wants to talk it out. Put us together and you’ve got the potential for a disastrous argument to happen. How do I know? Because John and I have had plenty of them.

They used to go something like this: I would start out with some anger, and because John wouldn’t respond to me, my anger would escalate until I suddenly turned into a mad tiger on the prowl (which made John even more likely to clam up and avoid me).

It took us a while to realize that part of the problem was our totally different styles of handling anger.

So, John has learned that it’s important to acknowledge and respond to me when I’m upset.

I’ve also learned that it’s important to manage my own anger. Sometimes when I let my temper loose, things can go a little overboard. John’s a great model and reminder that you don’t always have to be like that when you’re angry.

2. Recognize that living in a different culture can be stressful — so it’s important to provide some “compensations” to the person who left their culture

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When John and I lived in America, I started noticing that he was much more irritable than he used to be back in China. And it didn’t take much to set him off and start another argument. It was so unlike John, who had always been so easy-going, always ready to greet me with a smile. What had happened?

Then one day, it hit me – he was stressed out because of living in America, a different country and culture from his own. And adding to all of that stress, he was forced to navigate this new and stressful world in English, his second language.

Of course, this didn’t occur to me for a long time. Because I felt so comfortable to be back in America, the country and culture that I grew up in, I took it for granted that John would feel as comfortable as I did.

So, eventually, I realized what I needed to do: make room for some things that John missed from his own culture. In other words, provide some “cultural compensations” if you will.

Naturally, it started with food. You know how they say that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach? Well, I figured that the way to quiet a man’s heart – especially when he’s stressed over living in another culture — is through his stomach too. I started cooking up his favorite Chinese foods and putting rice on the menu more often.

But then I moved on to other things that he missed from China. We rented Chinese movies and streamed Chinese TV shows on the Internet. I even let John teach me how to play some soccer (a sport that, while not Chinese, is so popular in China it might as well be the national sport).

All of it made John a much happier guy – and, by extension, ours a much happier marriage. And if I had only figured it out sooner, I might have prevented a lot of unhappy moments we had together.

3. Practice reciprocity

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When I tell people that I make my husband red-braised pork, yet I’m still a devoted vegan, they look at me like I’m insane.

Well, believe me, it wasn’t easy to pick up that raw meat one afternoon and turn it into one of my husband’s most favorite comfort dishes from China. A part of me (the part that knows I was definitely made to be vegan) still recoils whenever I see any kind of raw animal flesh in the kitchen.

Ultimately I did it out of love – or, more specifically, to reduce arguments in our marriage.

See, at the time all this started, I had subjected my husband to months of vegan dining, thinking that we could eat vegan together in America and live happily ever after.

But there was a huge problem with that.

John grew up in a culture and household where people eat meat. It’s a normal part of life in China. Granted, when he was younger meat wasn’t as prevalent as it is today. But if people had meat, they were going to put it on the table.

So when you try to force a guy who grew up eating meat to go without, he gets grumpy. And it’s not fun to live with a grumpy husband.

So I started making a little meat on the side, just for John. Some red-braised pork. Baked chicken legs and chicken wings. The occasional fish too. Anything his carnivorous side desired.

Suddenly, my husband transformed into a much pleasant guy. It was a miracle for both of us to finally live in a house with a lot less arguing going on.

And since he was happy about his food, he decided to reciprocate. So whenever I went to do shopping at the store, he would encourage me to indulge my crazy vegan cravings and buy what John called a little “rewarding food”. Things like vegan cheese and faux meats and soy yogurt.

Sometimes, we’d end up having meals where the two of us might eat completely different things. At one end, there’s John digging into his red-braised pork. And at the other, there’s me tucking into a vegan Mexican wrap (with my favorite Daiya vegan cheese).

As bizarre as it might seem to be eating two different things at exactly the same time, it has really worked for us. This is reciprocity in action – both of us were happy because we accommodated each other’s personal cravings and needs.

We’ve extended that kind of reciprocity to other things in our life. For example, nowadays when we watch TV here in Hangzhou, I’ll let me husband tune into some of his favorite China news programs. Then he’ll toss me the remote after a while, so I can catch the kind of TV I like (such as romantic comedies and love stories – yeah, I’m a sucker for romance, can’t you tell?).

I think any couple – especially couples who hail from different cultures – would benefit from a little reciprocity in their lives.

What do you think? What strategies have you used in your own relationship to reduce arguments?

Double Happiness: How An American Woman Fell In Love With Xi’an (And One Special Guy)

Marissa and ZJ
Marissa and ZJ

“I’d never dated or been attracted to Chinese men before,” writes Marissa Kluger — not until she met ZJ in Xi’an, a city that stole her heart away.

Marissa’s blog Xiananigans has been a pleasure to follow over the years (right down to her “explosive” Chinese wedding, where she dons the most gorgeous red wedding gown I’ve ever seen). Here’s the story behind it all, from how she discovered Xi’an and ZJ to how they eventually moved it to her hometown in New Jersey.

Have an “explosive” story you’d like to share with us? To learn more about getting your stuff published on Speaking of China, check out the submit a post page for details.

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My first trip to China, in 2007, happened to be a three week intensive course abroad, a general education requirement instituted by Goucher College, my alma mater. Xi’an ended up being one of our destinations. Besides inspecting the soldiers at the Terracotta Warriors, bicycling around the Xi’an City Wall, and navigating the alleys of the Muslim Quarter, we met with an alumnus teaching at Xi’an International Studies University.

The city of Xi’an compelled me to return four years later to teach at Xi’an International Studies University. I’m a fairly indecisive person but I had made up my mind after listening to the alumnus’ anecdotes about his job, travels, and experiences. Meeting his students further cemented my longing to come back; they were inquisitive, interested in cultural exchange, American politics and exposing me to as much Chinese culture as several hours would allow.

Snapped at Delhi Darbar, our local Indian haunt, Summer 2013
Snapped at Delhi Darbar, our local Indian haunt, Summer 2013

Although I knew they would show us around their dorms, the campus, and give us small gifts, I was overwhelmed by their warmth, affection, and extroverted personalities. In many ways, they toppled every notion, or better yet, stereotype I read about Chinese students. We met students from universities in other cities during our travels, but XISU students left the deepest indent.

I also saw it as a one-year opportunity to do something outside-of-the-box before starting a career, although at that time I had little idea about what I’d be doing; I hadn’t even declared a major, still opting for that looming “Undecided” title. My parents thought I’d give up on the idea as I still had three years of schooling. They were supportive of the decision, also seeing it as a good opportunity, hoping I’d pick up the language and gain other valuable experiences that could propel whatever career path I chose forward.

In 2009-10, my final year at Goucher, I applied for a position at the university. Three months went by without a word, so I began applying for jobs in my chosen field in the Greater New York City area. A ray of sunshine appeared just a week before commencement…I had received an email from the university offering me a teaching position for the next academic year! When my college girlfriends offered their congratulatory sentiments, they also foreshadowed that 缘分, or fate would lead me to at least date, perhaps even settle down in China. I dismissed this as I didn’t really put much stock in fate.

Bicycling to the 798-like art district in Xi’an, Summer 2013
Bicycling to the 798-like art district in Xi’an, Summer 2013

I arrived in Xi’an in late August 2010, and luckily I had the first month of September free, as I had been assigned freshman. Freshman have mandatory military training, and four years ago, this lasted an entire month. I took this chance to meet up with a very good friend of my former private drum instructor and his Chinese wife. Lu Min Lu, I called her Daphney, helped me settle in and introduced me to the nightlife Xi’an offered. She took me to Park Qin, a bar frequented by Xi’an expats. ZJ worked at Park Qin.

The first time ZJ and I met, I insisted on getting his phone number on behalf of a British girl. I initially cut in for several reasons: I was looking for Chinese acquaintances who might become friends, most of my college friends were guys, he was easy to talk to and charming. I, of course, did all of this not knowing anything about Chinese dating culture, or that ZJ considered himself “traditional.”

After getting his phone number and exchanging texts, we agreed to meet up on his next day off. Shortly after that first meeting, I went back to Park Qin and spent hours talking to ZJ about movies, music, college, culture and more. We had a lot in common, he spoke directly, didn’t seem shy or introverted, much like the students I met in 2007, but I didn’t see this going in a romantic direction. The American girlfriends I emailed back home were elated: “I told you.”

ZJ and I in Xi’an, Chinese New Year 2013
ZJ and I in Xi’an, Chinese New Year 2013

It was about a month later that ZJ and I began dating. In the early stages of our relationship, we looked more like friends. We weren’t affectionate in public and our relationship remained a secret. In February 2011, I met ZJ’s parents during our Chinese New Year visit to his hometown. He prepared me very well for that first visit, explaining that to his parents, bringing a girl home, let alone a foreign one, meant to them we were serious.

I met his best friend from high school as well as extended family from both his mother’s and father’s side; I felt more comfortable than I initially thought in an environment so different from Xi’an and New Jersey. ZJ cared, translated and interpreted for me; his way to show affection manifested itself unlike any previous relationships. I liked the nuances, subtlety of it all, and more importantly, started to fall for him, and so upon returning to Xi’an, ZJ moved in with me.

After moving in together, we spent Western Valentine’s Day on the City Wall, visited the Shaanxi Botancial Gardensattended a professional soccer game at the sports stadium, and he attended Thanksgiving dinner I hosted with a friend. I went back to the US for the summer in 2011. Although we lived together, I worked during the day while ZJ slept after bartending into the wee hours of the morning. After 2012’s Chinese New Year, he decided to take a sabbatical from work.

We visited Baoji after the Chinese New Year to meet 大哥, ZJ’s eldest brother. The spring months of 2012, free from working in the evenings, we visited another campus infamous for their cherry blossomsday-tripped to Hanzhong with friendsspent July in Xi’an and backpacked through Thailand and Laos that summer. This trip tested our relationship, and looking back, foreshadowed some of the difficulties we now face.

The flowers ZJ procured by riding on a motorbike taxi in the pouring rain, at our engagement on June 8, 2013
The flowers ZJ procured by riding on a motorbike taxi in the pouring rain, at our engagement on June 8, 2013

When the holiday season approached, ZJ fostered my homesickness by taking me out for Peking duck on Christmas, a tradition commonly observed by Jewish-Americans. I went home for three weeks in January 2013; I wished he could have traveled with me, to meet my family and friends. I missed him when I went home for two months in 2011, staying in touch via Skype, however, those three weeks felt utterly painful. I enjoyed my time at home, but a sense of relief washed over me when I touched down in Xi’an a week or so before heading to his 老家 for Chinese New Year.

We had already started discussing getting engaged and this discussion was met with approval by 老爸, 老妈, 大哥和二哥. ZJ proposed to me on June 8, 2013. The timing of the ceremony, the set-up, and the ring were all a surprise to me. He told me we were celebrating his birthday; I saw this as slightly suspicious, but didn’t give it a second thought when he shot me down over WeChat when I asked if he planned to propose.

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A collage put together by one of our foreign guests at the Chinese wedding ceremony, Feb. 5, 2014

We had a friend take engagement photos, stayed at the Sheraton North as a quasi-engagement honeymoon, biked to Xi’an’s new art district, and went to Beijing. We talked about when we would get married that summer: would we stay in China or move to the US?

We registered our marriage a year ago. In October, we took our wedding photos for the Chinese wedding ceremony. Because many of ZJ’s coworkers and friends wouldn’t be able to make the two and a half hour trip to his 老家, we hosted a wedding luncheon in Xi’an, receiving the customary red envelopes. A month or so after, we began researching the DCF process so that we could move to the US in the summer, setting the wedding for February 5.

We made it up Cangshan, Dali Feb. 2014
We made it up Cangshan, Dali Feb. 2014

I wore an ankle-length red gown, one of three dresses purchased on Taobao for the ceremony held in the countryside. I opted for a red princess-poofy gown, complete with fur-like trim, flowers, taffeta-like mesh, all in red. I changed into a red lace qipao in order to toast the guests, wearing it with a qipao-style top as a jacket in hopes of keeping out the cold. I even wore all red undergarments. My youngest sister made the trip from the US, served as pseudo-maid of honor, taking on my hair and makeupWe also had a few foreign colleagues from the university attend. 爸爸和妈妈 Zhang, my brothers and sisters-in-law ensured the shindig, a once-in-a-lifetime affair, could be watched over and over again (there’s a video!). We had a honeymoon of sorts, to Lijiang and Dali, and I say of sorts, because my sister and friends of ours tagged along.

We had traveled to Guangzhou for the petition in January and a couple of months after all the wedding excitement died down, we traveled back again for the medical and interview portions. ZJ didn’t pass on the spot, as we had to send additional documents. A week or two later, we had ZJ’s passport with the appropriate visa in hand. I couldn’t believe how relatively quickly and pain-free the process had been! More foreshadowing…

ZJ and I in Hanzhong, 2012
ZJ and I in Hanzhong, 2012

We’ve now been in the US for two and a half months. We live with my parents in the house I grew up in. I work part-time for Starbucks while I pursue other avenues. This is the first encounter ZJ’s had with my parents and friends, with the exception of my youngest sister, who also lives at home. He just received his social security number last week. When we went to the department of motor vehicles earlier in the week, they weren’t able to verify his status, meaning we have to wait before he can obtain his driver’s license. In other words, the ease we experienced during the DCF process meant more obstacles after landing stateside.

It’s not all bad news, though. I never imagined I’d be a 26 year-old “we”, returning from four years in Xi’an, and struggling to figure out what comes next. I would never take it back, or trade it in for an “easier life.” Much like the processes we’ve gone through in the last year: getting our red books, preparing for our Chinese ceremony, navigating the DCF process, prepared us for the ups and downs of a new life. I underestimated the adjustment moving to the US would be, but my husband never did.

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Ringwood State Park in New Jersey, July 2014

This is why I love him. When I’m losing it, he remains calm, rational, and thoughtful. When I’m overly emotional, which is pretty much all of the time, he’s calculated and prepared to counteract my moodiness by jokes, sarcasm, or a story. He knows exactly when I need solitude, a hug or a kiss, encourages me to not only pursue my dreams, but to do so independently.

His sense of humor is infectious, and he’s grown into a more talkative, outwardly affectionate individual. He supports me in all my endeavors. Our marriage and relationship may not be conventional in the eyes of some, and we may be opposites, but I always foresaw, if I did marry, ending up with my “other half.” You see, I didn’t think I would marry, especially in my mid-20s, not because I don’t believe in the institution of marriage, but after a failed serious relationship in college, preferred to bask in dating solitude.

DSC_0024It’s laughable that there are Western women in China who write off Chinese men. I’d never dated or been attracted to Chinese men before, but I’m very attracted to my husband: appearance, intelligence, and personality-wise. If I had written them off, the handsome, caring man sitting to my right reading the local paper wouldn’t be in my life.

Marissa Kluger married her Chinese husband ZJ a year ago. They live in New Jersey. She reminisces about Xi’an and muses about life in the US at Xiananigans.

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Speaking of China is always on the lookout for outstanding guest posts and love stories! If you have something you’d like us to feature, visit the submit a post page for details — and then submit yours today.

Guest Post: The “Dark Side” to Moving Across the World for Love

I’m excited to run this guest post from Grace Mineta of the fantastic blog Texan in Tokyo (if you haven’t discovered her insightful and entertaining blog yet, you’re missing out). Grace just successfully funded a kickstarter project for her book “My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy: The Comic Book” in only three days!

Today she reflects on something that many of us know all too well, but are often afraid to write about (myself included) — the dark side of moving across the world for someone you love. 

Have something to say (and share) on Speaking of China, just like Grace? Check out my submit a post page for details on how to get your guest post published here.

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Interracial relationships are complicated. So are intercultural relationships. I don’t think I fully understood the complexity until I entered my own – and it’s a bit difficult trying to explain to other American friends with absolutely no knowledge of Asian culture why no, we can’t just “put my husband’s parents in an old-folks home once they lose mobility.”

Or when my husband has to try to explain to his coworkers that “no, my wife probably will not quit her job when she gets pregnant. She loves working. I might transition to part-time work and be a stay-at-home dad instead.”

Grace and Ryosuke Mineta

You see, as wonderful, exciting, and educational an intercultural relationship is, there is also a deep, dark side to moving across the world, for the sake of love. It can be isolating. You have to compromise about subjects you didn’t even think were ‘on the table,’ so to speak. You will both make mistakes.

After reading Susan’s recent memoir “The Good Chinese Wife,” I decided I wanted to write a guest post for Speaking of China about the dark side to moving across the world for love.

And, of course, if you’re really interested in daily life in Japan as a foreigner, you should check out my book “My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy: The Comic Book.”

It is an autobiographical memoir about my life as a white, Texan freelancer married to a Japanese businessman, living in Tokyo. It covers intercultural and interracial relationships, in a funny, light-hearted way.

Texan in Tokyo comics

Enough of the good, let’s talk about bad.

Here are the top 6 elements that make up the “dark side” of moving across the world for love:

1. You can become almost pathetically dependent on your spouse

My husband and I have lived in both Japan and Texas, with a vast majority of our time spent in Tokyo. We spent two months in America together before the wedding, and another month and a half in Texas after the wedding.

We had a wonderful time, but we also had some problems. Ryosuke couldn’t drive a car in America. He was completely dependent on me and, on days when I had a freelance project due, he was left walking my sister’s dog, Bo, around the neighborhood for hours, since he had nowhere else to go.

Thankfully, in Tokyo I can get anywhere by train/bus. However, there are times, like when I’m trying to open a bank account, file a health insurance form, or figure out some obscure Japanese law when I am completely dependent on my husband.

I’m lucky that I have my own job and can speak Japanese pretty fluently… but even so, I still get frustrated.

2. Visas, bureaucracy, and a lot of red tape

I went to the immigration office seven times to get a visa. Seven times. My visa was rejected for all sorts of stupid and illogical reasons (Not enough time left on my tourist visa, one form was improperly dated, the visa I was applying for didn’t exist, “waiting to apply for a spouse visa” was not a valid reason to extend my current tourist visa… the list goes on).

One incredibly unhelpful lady at the Tachikawa immigration office told me “Go back to America, wait a couple of months, and apply for a visa there.” When I told her I couldn’t afford to just ‘go back to America,’ she suggested I go to Korea instead (since it’s “cheaper”) and then called up the next person in line.

Now I have a valid, working visa in Japan.

However, I know other women who are not able to work on their spousal visas in their husband’s countries… and it’s hard.

3. Finding a good career “in your field” is incredibly difficult

I love writing, but I never wanted to be a writer. I wanted to work for local government. Or at an NGO.

Unfortunately, it is incredibly difficult to find a job in my field in Japan. I either don’t have enough experience, can’t make the proper time commitment, can’t speak Japanese well enough, or can’t afford to commit to 40 hours of work (unpaid, no stipend for food/travel) for at least 16 months at my dream NGO.

Hence the reason I am a freelance writer, blogger, and English teacher.

I don’t love the work, but it pays the bills and gives me something to do. In my spare time, I get to blog, draw comics, and volunteer at a local orphanage.

I can’t count the number of women I know who moved abroad with their husband, expecting to find a career in their field in a couple of months… only to wind up frustrated, disappointed, and underemployed.

4. Insecurity is normal

On one of our larger fights a couple months ago, I asked my husband why he didn’t just marry a nice Japanese girl. “She would be able to talk to your family without any problems,” I told him, “and she would be better at housework (or, like, actually agree to do housework. I’ve met so many Japanese girls who love cleaning. I hate it. Ugh.)”

“I don’t want to marry a ‘Japanese girl!'” he shouted back. “Or an ‘American girl!’ I just want to be married to you!”

A lot of our friends are Japanese. When we have house parties or go on double dates, I often find myself toning out what the other people are saying. Speaking in Japanese all day makes my head hurt… and I start to feel out of depth.

Texan in Tokyo comic about the telephone

When nearly all of our friend’s wives quit their jobs after marriage, clean the house every day, wake up early in the morning to cook their husband breakfast, do laundry every day, and always keep the house presentable, clean, and well-stocked with food, it’s hard not to get insecure.

I still stand by everything I wrote in my last guest post on Speaking of China, “7 of the Best Things about Being Married to a Non-Native English Speaker.”

And thankfully, my husband doesn’t expect me to be a “Good Japanese Wife.” If he did… well, I would probably go crazy. And we would yell at each other more.

5. You might have to re-evaluate your priorities and compromise on some tough issues

This one is pretty self-explanatory.

Just remember that arguments are an essential part of any healthy relationship and they provide a great way to broaden your horizons and re-evaluate your priorities.

6. You will be isolated

When we first moved back to Tokyo, we spent the first couple months living with his parents in Ibaraki, an incredibly rural prefecture next to Tokyo.

In the first couple months I had no job (I was still battling the immigration office), no English speaking friends, and no connection to the ‘outside world.’

I fell into a deep, dark depression that lasted for several months. I cried a lot. I started losing weight (not in the good way). I watched my friends from college go off and get amazing jobs… and just felt worse about myself.

Then we moved out. We saved enough to get out own place, in central Tokyo. I got a visa and picked up a couple part-time jobs. I made a bunch of new friends.

Texan in Tokyo comic about the beach

I still had cultural problems from time-to-time, but instead of being a sad reminder of how “foreign” I was, they started being kind of funny.

I wrote a comic book, “My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy,” that ended up being wildly successful.

I have a ‘sort of’ career now.

Of course, I still feel isolated from time-to-time. But I’m learning how to deal with it. 

Grace Mineta

Author Bio:

Grace Buchele Mineta is a native Texan, founder of the blog “Texan in Tokyo,” and author of the autobiographical comic book, “My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy.” She lives in Tokyo with her husband, Ryosuke, where she blogs and draws comics about their daily life.

My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy: The Comic Book” is the autobiographical misadventures of a native Texan freelancer and her Japanese “salaryman” husband – in comic book form. From earthquakes and crowded trains, to hilarious cultural faux pas, this comic explores the joys of living and working abroad, intercultural marriages, and trying to make a decent pot roast on Thanksgiving.

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Speaking of China is always on the lookout for outstanding guest posts and love stories! If you have something you’d like us to feature, visit the submit a post page for details — and then submit yours today.

Photo Essay: Celebrating 10 years of marriage to my husband!

Ten years ago on July 26, my husband and I stood before a government representative in Shanghai, promising to spend the rest of our lives together. It’s hard to believe that 10 years have passed since that moment, yet I love John just as much as the first time I stood before him and said, “Wo yuanyi!” (“I do” in Chinese — and yes, like most of us in China, I did it more than once for reasons explained in this post).

To commemorate those 10 incredible years I’ve enjoyed with the love of my life, a guy who still makes me swoon after all this time together, I’m sharing one of our marriage registration photos from 2004 plus 10 photos of us together (one from each year of our marriage)!

2004

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This photo was taken just moments after we took our vows in a civil ceremony in Shanghai and signed our official little red marriage books. Can’t you just see that newly-registered glow in our faces? (Or maybe it’s the red we both wore that day!) 😉

2005

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As part of our Huangshan Honeymoon in 2005 (which I wrote about in an essay for the new anthology How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit) we visited a couple of traditional Huizhou-style villages in the foothills of Huangshan. Here we pose before a reflecting pool in Hongcun.

2006

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We visited friends in Chicago in February 2006 and ended up strolling beside Lake Michigan, despite the freezing winter temperatures. Who needs to worry about cold weather when you have the love of your life beside you to keep you warm? 😉

2007

Jocelyn and Jun in the park near Fenshui River.

The summer of 2007, we returned to John’s hometown to make our marriage official (in the eyes of his family and friends) with a big Chinese wedding ceremony.

2008

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Late in the summer of 2008, John and I took off for one last camping trip deep in the Rocky Mountains. What views!

2009

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When John and I went to China for the summer of 2009, we indulged in a month-long trip across the country to take in all of the sights we never visited years before — from Xi’an and Chengdu to Changsha and Kaifeng.

2010

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John and I welcomed the year of the tiger in 2010 as the emcees of a Chinese New Year celebration. What a night!

2011

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Here we are in 2011 celebrating John’s birthday over Thai curries. John never used to think much of his birthday until I came along — but if the smile on his face is any measure, he loves the change!

2012

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To commemorate our wedding anniversary in 2012, we enjoyed a relaxing evening of classical music performed by the Cleveland Orchestra. But before heading out, we posed before the flower garden to remember the evening.

2013

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For Chinese New Year in 2013, John and I whipped up a traditional Chinese feast for the family — from roast goose and ribs to ginger-garlic green beans and stir-fried matchstick potatoes. We’re smiling, but there’s exhaustion behind those eyes because we spent the entire morning in the kitchen! Still, it was worth the effort.

2014

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There’s nothing like finally spending Chinese New Year at the family home in China for the first time in years. In 2014, John and I reunited with his family and the country we love.

Here’s to hoping for 10 more incredible years with my incredible man. Thanks for everything, John.

Are we more vulnerable to one-sided relationships when it’s cross-cultural love?

(photo by Helga Weber via Flickr.com)
(photo by Helga Weber via Flickr.com)

The e-mails from Western women that land in my Ask the Yangxifu inbox never cease to surprise and even shock me with their tales of relationship woes — particularly the ones marked “confidential”. Invariably when it’s confidential, it’s a story of unimaginable difficulties.

In the end, though, these women almost always want an answer to one simple question: “What can I do to make it right?”

Here’s what they hope I’ll say: “It’s totally normal in Chinese culture, and here’s a cultural tip to smooth things over.” Except in reality, more often than not, what they’re telling me isn’t normal and can’t be smoothed over with a little cultural finesse. And more often than not, I loathe to tell them what I’m really thinking — that, potentially, they have a guy problem. That, potentially, they’re floundering in a one-sided relationship.

What do I mean by a “one-sided relationship”? It’s a situation where only one person compromises and makes changes for the better of the couple, while they other person does not (or doesn’t enough).

Of course, one-sided relationships are not just a problem for couples with two different passports and home countries. I just watched the movie “Don Jon” not that long ago, which is essentially in part all about the dangers of a one-sided relationship using a very average couple of white Americans, where one person places all of the demands on the other, with no exceptions.

But as I think about the Ask the Yangxifu inbox — and the many nightmare relationships people have confided to me about — I wondered something. Are we more vulnerable to the throes of a one-sided relationship when we’re dating someone in a foreign country? When we’re deep in the process of acculturation and cultural adjustment, do we wrongly assume that we ought to do more of the work in the relationship precisely because we’re not in our home country?

The thing is, I thought about this because I had walked in these women’s shoes years before with my first Chinese boyfriend. Yes, I once blindly suffered through a one-sided relationship and I had no idea for the longest time.

I thought it was enough that he and I shared similar interests (music and movies), and that he loved introducing me to his own passions (like soccer). But when it came right down to it, as warmly as he invited me into his life, it didn’t go both ways. There were huge parts of my personality that he never bothered to ask me about — like my environmental biology major in college or the fact that birdwatching was one of my favorite pastimes in the US. Even worse, he didn’t care about my home country or hometown. I once suggested he might study there but he preferred to go to Europe instead. And then he asked me to follow him there, even though it was essentially impossible for me, an American, to find any meaningful work for myself. It took me the longest time to realize the problem because I was so besotted with him — “blinded by love” as they say. But looking back, I’m certain my struggles to understand Chinese culture and learn his language (at the time, I could only rattle off a handful of phrases…poorly!) also blinded me to what was really going on.

In the end, I finally said “enough!” and told him I couldn’t follow him to Europe. In part, I realized that it didn’t make sense to fashion my entire life around someone else’s wishes. And in part, I couldn’t take all of the trouble involved with moving to this country he had chosen as his dream destination. It took me years before I could finally admit the truth: that it was a one-sided relationship and that’s why it ultimately failed.

Sometimes, when you’re dating in a foreign country and you’re new to the culture, it’s not always easy to tell where personality ends and cultural norms begin. But in the end, cultural differences should never justify a relationship where everything’s tilted to one person over the other, where one person doesn’t feel supported or acknowledged or uplifted.

What do you think?

The “Good Chinese Wife” Interview with Susan Blumberg-Kason

(Note: I’m excited to be giving away one FREE copy of Good Chinese Wife! Want to enter the giveaway? Scroll down to the end of this post for details!)

Susan Blumberg-Kason’s new memoir Good Chinese Wife comes with a revealing subtitle: A Love Affair With China Gone Wrong. Before you even open the book, you already know what kind of love this is – a marriage between a white American woman and a Chinese man that doesn’t end well.

But as I’ve learned over time, there’s tremendous value in sharing the stories of couples that didn’t work out. That’s why I sent out a submission call for stories of love lost and unrequited love. And that’s why Good Chinese Wife should be on the reading list of everyone who follows this blog.

I’m calling it the AMWF memoir of 2014 and you shouldn’t miss it.

Good Chinese Wife: A Love Affair with China Gone Wrong

This book has it all. A Chinese love interest with movie-star looks. A romance set in glitzy Hong Kong. A huge red wedding in Wuhan. A fascinating journey across China in the mid-1990s. And a transformative tale of how one shy young woman eventually finds the courage to make a dramatic escape.

But most importantly, Good Chinese Wife is just an incredibly entertaining memoir. It’s the kind of book that you’ll open, thinking you’re only going to read for a little while, and before you know it you’ve devoured the whole story in one sitting.

Susan Blumberg-Kason

As someone who has known Susan for several years, I’ve had the privilege to witness the inspiring metamorphosis of Good Chinese Wife from manuscript to published memoir. It is an extraordinary honor to introduce you to Good Chinese Wife and Susan through this interview.

A freelance writer in Chicago, Susan has written for the Chicago Sun Times, the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, and Chicago Parent magazine. Her essay “Ninety Minutes in Tsim Sha Tsui” is included in the fabulous new anthology How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit. She also wrote All the Tea in Chicago, the ultimate guidebook to the city for tea enthusiasts.

I talked to Susan to learn more about her memoir – from what inspired her to write it, to her experiences as a yangxifu (the foreign wife of a Chinese man) in the mid-1990s, to what she hopes readers will come away with from her story.

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When did you first realize you wanted to turn your story into a memoir? What ultimately inspired you to write it?

I first thought about writing this memoir after my divorce attorney in California asked me to write out everything that went wrong in that marriage. She needed all the details in case we went to trial. It was 14 years ago and I was living with my parents. They didn’t have a laptop connected to a printer and I wasn’t in the mood to camp out in front of the basement desktop—after having felt so isolated for the past five and a half years—so I hand-wrote it over the span of a week in the company of my family. This document was sixty-seven pages! When I proofread it before sending it off to my lawyer, I thought, “Wow! This would make a great book.”

A week later I saw the movie “Not Without My Daughter” for the first time. It was about a woman who almost lost her daughter when her family traveled to Iran to visit her husband’s family. The husband had lived in the US for 20 years, but when he returned to his motherland, he suddenly wanted to stay there and keep his daughter there. I cried because the same thing could have happened to me. I wanted to share my story with others and hoped it would give parents in cross-cultural relationships something to think about if they’re in similar situations.

Susan at the Tsim Sha Tsui metro stop in Hong Kong.
Susan at the Tsim Sha Tsui metro stop in Hong Kong.

Your love affair with Cai, a man from Wuhan, China, takes place in Hong Kong in the mid-1990s, at a time when you were mainly a graduate student. What are some of your most interesting memories about dating in Hong Kong back then?

Hong Kong was magical back then! I was so happy to be back (I’d lived there for a year in 1990-91) and open to new opportunities, including dating. Maybe it was the thrill of being back and the comfort I felt around Hong Kong people, but I definitely took more chances there than I had back in the US. There was a new confidence in the air as people who had left Hong Kong in the 1980s were returning. One was a friend of a friend who confided some pretty heavy personal history to me on our one and only date. At one point he became violent as he grabbed my arms and squeezed them as if in a vice. I was scared about leaving that bar—we were out in the middle of the New Territories—but in the end he paid for my taxi ride home, which was two hours away. I also went out with a television anchorman who promised a weekend away in Macau, but canceled at the last minute. And then there were the two guys I wrote about in the book, the two I went out with before I met Cai.

Hidden River, China - Cai's hometown
Hidden River, China – Cai’s hometown in Hubei Province

How did people react to yangxifu back in the mid-1990s?

It was a novelty for Chinese men to have a foreign wife. In Hidden River, Cai’s hometown in Hubei province, his parents had a friend whose son had married a Japanese woman. She was a legend in that danwei—whether or not people had met her—because she was a foreigner. So my inlaws were very accepting of me and liked to brag about me with their friends. When I walked around Hidden River, people were all very polite, even when they stared and pointed at my curly hair and western nose.

14583639023_393094e530_oYour wedding in 1995 was special compared to the average wedding banquet in Wuhan. Could you share with us some of the things that made your celebration different?

Well, back then children of Communist Party members had to have modest wedding celebrations. For instance, they could only use a couple of cars in their motorcades and could only have ten tables at their banquets. But because I was a foreigner, those rules didn’t apply to my wedding even though my father-in-law was a Party member. We had twenty tables at our wedding and five or six cars. Traditions were still low key in China then, so weddings were simple and quick. There weren’t tea ceremonies and the like. And women in Hubei didn’t wear red qipaos. It was all big poufy white wedding dresses. I had a difficult time finding a red qipao in Suzhou!

Cai’s parents also play a major role in your story. Give us one of your favorite scenes from the book featuring your inlaws.

I think my favorite scene in the book was when they were leaving San Francisco to return to China. They had lived with us for ten months and after many clashes about childcare, I realized too late, of course, how much I had appreciated their presence at home. Every night we watched Chinese soap operas and news from Beijing while Cai went out. And they were often my only adult interaction at home. As we said goodbye at the airport, I also thought about how difficult it must be for them to leave Jake, their beloved grandson. So this scene is full of contrasts and difficult emotions.

Susan and Jake in San Francisco in 1999.
Susan and Jake in San Francisco in 1999.

Your book includes many memorable characters, but none more so than “Japanese father” — a rather unconventional father-figure to Cai. Without giving everything away, could you tell us something about this fascinating character?

Japanese Father was a music professor who visited China one summer and met Cai in Wuhan. The two became pen pals and wrote long letters to each other almost every week. The Japanese economy was so far ahead of China’s at the time—it wasn’t even comparable—so the opportunities that Japanese Father could offer Cai, and later his friend Rui, were very attractive to young teachers who had no other way of making more than US$75 a month. Japanese Father had a lot of time to spend on his Chinese protégées because he was estranged from his wife and son. His daughter still spoke to him, though.

Susan at the Miramar in Hong Kong.
Susan at the Miramar in Hong Kong.

As the subtitle explains, your story is “a love affair with China gone wrong.” Some people may see your book as yet another story that casts Asian men in a negative light, as well as AMWF relationships and even China itself. How would you respond to those concerns?

The subtitle refers to my initial attraction to China and how that all changed. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing; it just didn’t go according to plan. As for a negative portrayal of Asian men, I can only see two Asian men who don’t come out looking great. Some reviewers think that Cai is sympathetic, and I can see that, too. But the others—Baba, Cai’s friend Rui, my former brothers-in-law, and even the guys I dated in Hong Kong—are portrayed just as men in any other countries. They have a variety of positive traits and aren’t lumped into one general category. And as one friend pointed out, at the end I go to lengths to protect the Chinese male who matters most to me—my son Jake. As for AMWF relationships, I clearly do everything I can to make mine work. In writing my story, I hope that people will see how not to conduct an AMWF relationship! And as for China, I felt aligned with many young Chinese at that time. Every time Cai and I returned to China, he was heartbroken that it was changing so quickly and wasn’t like the China of his childhood. I echoed his feelings and could see how things were different even from my first trip to China in 1988. To me, that’s not being anti-China, but rather wishing for a smoother transition, for China to have eased into the twentieth century instead of leaping into the twenty-first in one blink!

In Hidden River, Cai’s hometown near Wuhan.

Could you share some of the lessons you’ve learned from your courtship and marriage to Cai, and what you hope readers take away from your book?

From the courtship, people will probably conclude that I married Cai too quickly. But I think it’s more than that. He told me from the get-go that he had certain conditions for our marriage. Those are things I ignored or thought I could eventually get him to change. That should have been my red flag, not the time in which we became engaged and married. And from the marriage, I hope people can see that it’s not a good idea to justify bad behavior in the name of cultural differences, whatever those may be. (Unless we come from the exact background as our partner, we will have cultural differences. My new husband and I are from different religious backgrounds.) If something doesn’t sit well, it doesn’t sit well and shouldn’t be tolerated. It doesn’t matter if the person is from Asia or the US or wherever. One more thing: just be yourself and you’ll be fine!

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Thanks so much to Susan Blumberg-Kason for enlightening us about Good Chinese Wife!

Want to win a FREE copy of Good Chinese Wife? I’m giving one away on Twitter to anyone based in the US or Canada. And it’s simple to enter! Just tweet the following:

[Tweet “@jossailin is giving away the new memoir #GoodChineseWife and I want to win!”]

Entries must be received by 12 midnight Pacific Time on July 16, 2014! I’ll then notify the winner via messaging on Twitter. Good luck!

UPDATE: Congratulations to @JohnWGuise for winning the giveaway!

Double Happiness: Love on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau – Konchok and Kimberly

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Ever since I discovered the blog Nama-Mama back in April, I’ve been dying to know the love story behind it all. I mean, it’s not every day you run across a white American gal who fell in love with and married a Tibetan man. Well, I’m excited that Kimberly stepped forward to tell us all how she and Konchok met!

If you’ve ever been intrigued by life in far Western China, Tibetan culture, or just what it’s like to raise a multicultural, biracial child in an unusual locale, you don’t want to miss Nama-Mama.

Want to share your own love story or other guest post here on Speaking of China? Visit my submit a post page to learn how
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Before I went to live in Xining I sometimes joked to my parents that I might find a nice guy there and settle down. My mother always gave me a disapproving look, which I laughed off because I wasn’t serious. I went back to China because I missed it, and because I had the chance to go to a place out west, where I could be among Tibetans and other minorities.

I met an amazing Canadian woman there and we became really good friends. At the time she was an English teacher for an organization. After she got to know me well, and I had told her that I wouldn’t mind meeting a nice young man, she introduced one of her students: K.

I’d seen him at a couple of gatherings previously but we hadn’t talked. She gave me his phone number and we began to exchange text messages. Then one night when my friend was out of town I couldn’t open her apartment door to feed her cats. I called K to come and help me and he did. We finally got the door open, cleaned up the cat mess together, then I made tea and we put in a movie. We didn’t watch it though, we just talked.

After that we continued texting and going out together on weekends. I consider our trip to the South Mountain our first date. We brought a picnic lunch and found a quiet place among the pines. I told him I was afraid someone was going to steal my boots. Later he shouted “Kim! Your boots are gone!” I scrambled around worriedly looking for them and spotted them right where I left them. The guy had a sense of humor, and I liked that.

Kimberly and Konchok

It wasn’t long before he started to tell his family about me. First his brother, who was quite supportive, and then his parents, who were worried about various things such as the high divorce rate in America and the inevitability of me leaving him once I got homesick for my own country. Though their concerns were valid (they didn’t know me), K did what he always does when it came to his own life: whatever he wanted. And in this case, he wanted to marry me. (I later found out that once a Tibetan tells his family about his girlfriend it means that they will get married if the parents agree. Otherwise, children will never talk about their romantic relationships with their parents.)

He started to talk about marriage three months into our relationship, which freaked me out a little, but if I’m honest, I knew by four months together that we would get married. I told him that we’d have to wait at least one year to be really sure that we were compatible. The months went by peacefully and to this day we have never had a fight. His family has also come to know and like me and we all get along fine.

We are now nearing our second wedding anniversaries. We have a baby daughter who brings us a lot of joy. We are both really relaxed most of the time and take things easy. I can’t imagine sharing my life with anyone else.

Kimberly is an American woman living in Xining City, Qinghai Province, with her Tibetan husband and baby daughter.

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Speaking of China is always on the lookout for outstanding guest posts and love stories! If you have something you’d like us to feature, visit the submit a post page for details — and then submit yours today.

Guest Post: 7 of the Best Things about being married to a Non-Native English Speaker

I’m so thrilled to share this fantastic guest post from Grace Mineta of Texan in Tokyo, one of my favorite AMWF blogs. If you haven’t discovered her blog, you’re missing out on one of the best reads in the blogosphere. Thanks so much to Grace for this outstanding submission!

Want to be like Grace and have your voice featured on Speaking of China? Visit my submit a post page for details.

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The fact that my husband is a native Japanese speaker is part of the reason we get along so well.

I have a small confession to make – my partner and I look nothing alike. For one, he’s a man and I’m not. So his hair is closely shaved, while my is long and flowing; his muscles, feet, and hands are larger than mine. But those aren’t the differences people usually notice. My husband is Asian (from Japan) and I am white (from Texas).

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And like most Japanese people, he is not a native English Speaker. The first time he really took an English class was in cram-school, trying to get into college.

Fast forward six years and his English is advanced enough to quite literally charm my family into letting him marry me and whisk me off to Japan. And aside from not quite being able to understand what the characters from BBC’s Sherlock are saying without subtitles (mostly because he can’t understand British English), my husband Ryosuke doesn’t have any problems with English.

It’s totally not weird to walk in on him pouring over the Steve Job’s Biography (in English) while taking extensive notes (in Japanese) on how to become a “more awesome person, like Jobs.”

But he is not a native English speaker.

And I really, really love the fact that he is not a native English speaker because:

1. He never gets onto me for my atrocious spelling.

A large part of my income comes from my blog, “Texan in Tokyo.” I write about interracial marriage, living in Japan as a foreigner, and other “neat” things about Japan.

But, as commenters point out time and time again, I cannot spell to save my life. I also have problems with grammar.

I was hanging out with a friend yesterday and we were semi-talking about my blog. I brought up the spelling mistakes, and she was just like “Yeah, they’re everywhere, but at least you know you have horrible spelling and grammar. Some people have absolutely no idea.”

I understand it is somewhat shameful for a blogger to not be able to type up even a short, simple post without extensively relying on Microsoft Word Spell-Check… but hey. That’s me.

Even when typing the title for this section, I spelt atrocious like “attrocious.”

But Ryosuke never gets onto me for spelling or grammar.

And I used to think it was because his English wasn’t advanced enough to be able to point out mistakes in English, but it is. If he wanted to, he could do it. He just chooses not to. Or, more specifically, he chooses not to correct my grammar and my spelling.

He loves me. I love him. He doesn’t correct my spelling/grammatical mistakes and I don’t correct his various mistakes (unless it’s for a professional purpose, essay, or cover letter). It is glorious.

2. I could listen to his accent all day

Back in high school, I used to be all on board with “British and French accents are the sexiest things in the world.” Not anymore. Of course, British and French accents are still attractive (as are African accents, I’ve come to realize), but Ryosuke’s accent takes the cake.

Ryosuke’s classically Japanese accent is the most adorable and sexiest thing in the entire world. I could just listen to him talk all day. In fact, I would be able to listen to him talk all day if only I could learn to shut up every once and a while…

[For more, check out: Asian Man/White Woman Relationships- The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly]

3. It is very easy to condition my husband to say the things I like.

When you’re learning another language, you have a tendency to parrot the people around you. For instance, if you are learning English and your friend always says “awesome” to everything, you might start saying “awesome” to everything too.

I like certain words over other words. I think the way the words “fantastic,” “fabulous,” “futile,” “phenomenal,” and “thrilling” roll of the tongue. (Now that I’m writing them out, I realize I might have a fetish for words that begin with an “f”.)

Ryosuke’s vocabulary closely mirrors my own. He calls me fabulous, says my writing is fantastic, my attempts to get him to watch “New Girl” with him are futile, my eyes are phenomenal, and hanging out with me is thrillingly fantastic. He doesn’t have the same kind of attachment I have for English words. To him, anything works. And gradually, over time, his vocabulary has been filled with fantastically wonderful words that I like.

In a similar manner, my speech closely resembles his when I speak Japanese. It used to make my college professor so angry – she thought Ryosuke was “ruining my pretty Japanese.” He probably did.

But that’s what happens when you spend extensive amounts of time with someone. You begin to mirror their mannerisms – especially speech. Now, both Ryosuke and I sound like socially awkward (but somewhat sophisticated) adults when we speak English and like comedic 15 year old boys when we speak Japanese.

4. We get to make up our own words.

The benefit of always learning new words in a foreign language is that it is surprisingly easy to slip in some new, invented words, just for fun. Ryosuke and I often switch between Japanese and English when we talk – and so we’ve come up with a whole list of words that are a mix between the two languages, conveying something that is difficult or complicated to explain.

For example “Sappuri” means “Surprisingly Samui (cold).” We use it when it’s a lot colder outside than we expected. Or the wind is surprisingly cold.

5. We always have our own language to fall back on.

Between our made up words and the constant switching between English and Japanese, Ryouske and I have our very own language. And having your own language is an important tool that facilitates intimacy and closeness – even when you’ve spent the last three days in close proximity with family.

We don’t have to censor what we say around my family and his family – because if it’s a serious concern, awkward question, or inappropriate (or funny) comment, we can use our partner’s language.

6. Our “Spot the ‘Engrish’” Games have a whole other side to them.

One of my favorite things to do is go to the 100yen shops (like the Japanese equivalent of a $1.00 shop, but much cooler and much less sketchy than American dollar stores) and laugh at the misplaced “Engrish” on the products.

Ryosuke enjoys the game as well. We will drive around all afternoon chatting, finding funny English, and eating peach jelly.

However, Ryosuke is also good at explaining why certain things ended up the way they did. He adds a whole extra level to the game – because as a native Japanese speaker who learned English, he can understand why native Japanese speakers who do not understand English write the things they do.

7. When we argue, we don’t get caught up in exactly what the other person is saying.

Our arguments aren’t a “he said, she said” battle. Of course he says socially unacceptable things while we fight – and in the beginning, I used fly off the handle at some of the socially unacceptable things he said.

Now we’ve learned to focus more on what the other person is feeling, rather than what they say. Our arguments are a “safe space” where you don’t have to worry about the other person freaking out if you accidentally say the wrong thing.

[For more, check out: Fighting – Things My Japanese Husband and I Culturally Disagree About]

It’s not fair to Ryouske to fight with complicated words and hidden meanings. We have to be very clear. And oddly enough, that has helped us both be much more honest when it comes to disagreements. He doesn’t have to worry about accidentally saying the wrong thing and I don’t have to worry about loaded up my words with hidden meanings.

Being married to a non-native English speaker is incredibly fun and always interesting. This cross-cultural relationship has opened me up to a whole new way to look at “language,” itself – which is kind of fitting because I write so much.

But then again, I’m partial because I am terribly in love with my husband.

Grace Mineta is a blogger, freelance writer, and fashionista in Tokyo. Married to her college sweetheart, Ryosuke, she spends most of her time hiking, drawing comics, and trying to navigate life as the American wife to a Japanese businessman.

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Speaking of China is always on the lookout for outstanding guest posts and love stories! If you have something you’d like us to feature, visit the submit a post page for details — and then submit yours today.

Guest Post: The privilege of stereotypes about cross-cultural couples in China

(photo by Angela Sevin via Flickr.com)
(photo by Angela Sevin via Flickr.com)

We’ve all heard about yellow fever and the associated stereotypes. So what happens when you’re a Western man dating or married to an Asian woman and you’re supposedly living the stereotype?

That’s the heart of this thoughtful guest post by Gerald Zhang-Schmidt, who is married to a Chinese woman. 

You may remember Gerald from years back when he collaborated with me to write about stereotypes of Chinese-Western couples. He also submitted a question about changing your name in China that’s become one of my top 10 most popular posts (and incidentally, he was the one who ended up changing his name!). 

Want to follow in Gerald’s footsteps and have your voice heard on Speaking of China? Check out my submit a post page for details.

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Maybe I just shouldn’t care.

It’s my own fault, after all. I’ve known Jocelyn, at least via Speaking of China, for years and read of her thoughts and travails with great interest. The way that Chinese society puts everyone into place, in their gender roles and in gendered expectations about behavior and the course of a life has fascinated me.

How could you not be fascinated? While public displays of affection are still viewed askance in many places, the requirements for an ideal partner are proudly and straightforwardly proclaimed in ‘marriage markets’? (“Westerners” may also see these advertisements as superficial and appalling, but one could just as well call them honest.)

How about a place where the women are portrayed as if they would prefer (and be preferred by) foreigners over their own men, whereas the men hardly even seem to stand a chance with anyone anymore? That’s where I’m caught squat in the middle. Speaking of China is all about the rarity of foreign woman – Asian man couples, draws readers because of that same rarity, and has lots of issues to talk about. Meanwhile I’m living all of those other, wicked, dominant, problematic positions.

I mean, according to all the talk about white male privilege – and its experience – I must clearly be privileged. I’m not supposed to talk, for it just reflects my attempts at staying on top and maintaining my privileged position. As the WM part of a WM-AF (white male – Asian female) relationship, I’m living the stereotype. “Oh my, clearly one of those guys with an Asian fetish and one of those stupid and/or calculating women dumb enough to fall for him.”

The privilege of being in a majority is that you’re questioned less. As a friend recently put it, “you are given more second chances.” For the same reason, though, you are also less visible — for better and worse. You don’t have to explain yourself nearly as much as the unusual Western (or other) woman who marries an Asian man or the lucky Asian man who was able to attract a Western woman. Because they are considered unusual, they attract attention. They get questioned. They have to explain themselves and live with the puzzled looks. But, they also get much-visited blogs and book deals for their memoirs. And so, they have a need, but also get a chance, of explaining themselves. In breaking the mold, they are viewed askance, but also as avant-garde.

Try getting a book deal for the story of a ‘stereotypically normal’ WM-AF relationship, when “everyone knows” (a favorite phrase of the Chinese students I was teaching) that it’s all just about the Asian woman looking to better her situation and the Western male with yellow fever.

Such observations of upsides and downsides all too quickly devolve into nothing but discussions of who’s got it worse or better, “the culture of shut-up,” as it was recently called. So who does have it better? The one in an extraordinary situation beyond usual stereotypes, yet facing more scrutiny because of it? Or the one barely noticed because the situation is so stereotypical, no one even bothers wondering?

It’s similar to how feminism and stereotypes are discussed in general terms rather easily, but then suddenly turn personal and get vicious, until the discussion turns into something that has nothing to do with them. The likes of a “sure, there is a privilege to being a white male, but *I* am hardly privileged (or do you see me becoming rich just so?)” even as the systemic difficulties of the not-privileged (and advantages of the privileged) certainly are there, or the “yeah, I’m all for feminism, I like strong women” from men, as if feminism were all about strength, let alone one person’s likes.

But that’s not what I want to discuss. I don’t want to discuss anything, really. I just want to provide my observations and make a humble suggestion. Relationships, be they romantic or otherwise, will always be influenced by ethnic, cultural, and other backgrounds and the views they give rise to. But relationships are, at heart, not between ethnic groups, not between social groupings, nor even between men and women. They are between individual people.

The trouble starts when we don’t want to see individual people and individual situations, and don’t suspend judgment. When we see someone who fits into a stereotypical opinion and immediately think we have a handle on who they are.

We should remember that we tend to not even understand ourselves half as well as we may think we do.

Gerald Zhang-Schmidt is an ecologist and cultural anthropologist who spent three years living in China, and now resides with his wife in his native Austria where he writes about the ecology of happinesschili peppers and being at home in the world.

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Speaking of China is always on the lookout for outstanding guest posts and love stories! If you have something you’d like us to feature, visit the submit a post page for details — and then submit yours today.