07/20/16

What to accept in the name of culture?

At a friend’s wedding in 2015

I often get comments or emails asking if something is common Chinese behavior in a spouse or in-laws. They wonder if they are acting in a strange way because of cultural reasons and therefore should be respected even though you find it hard to accept.

For example shaving a baby’s head is a common practice in China. Some believe by shaving the hair will grow thicker, some simply think it’s cooler without hair in a hot climate. Would you accept this as a part of Chinese culture?

It’s easy to accept the things we agree about. Having dinner with the in-laws once a week gives me a break from cooking. Even though I believe women should earn their own money, I haven’t turned off gifts from my husband such as a bicycle and a MacBook laptop.

But what about the things we find hard to accept? The way of criticizing to show your love? In-laws giving you a bunch of unwanted advice and throwing a temper tantrum when you decide to hire a nanny?

I believe that instead of thinking “Do I accept this Chinese cultural custom” you should consider “Do I accept this person as my spouse with his or her habits no matter cultural or not”. The point is not that you are about to marry or already married to a Chinese person. More importantly you are committed to this particular person.

Let me give you an example. If my husband had to drink him self under the table at business dinners several times per week, I wouldn’t accept it. It’s a part of Chinese business culture yes, but that doesn’t make it any more acceptable from my point of view. “But that’s just part of our culture” wouldn’t be a plausible explanation for me. 

One tricky trap to avoid is thinking “I wouldn’t accept this from a Western boyfriend, but he is Chinese so I must understand”.  I admit I have fallen to this pit in my previous relationships, accepting way too much in the name of culture than I should have. This reminds me of the book Good Chinese Wife, where Susan refused to believe her husband cheated even though the evidence was right in front of her. 

So what to accept then? I accepted that our daughter got my husband’s last name without a discussion. I also accept strangers touching our baby’s hands or even cheeks as I know it’s just a part of the child loving nature of Chinese people.

In the end intercultural marriage is still a marriage. If something makes you uncomfortable or angry, discuss it with your spouse. If you aren’t married yet, decide if you are willing to live with his or hers strange habits no matter cultural or not.

07/17/14

Good Chinese Wife – A Love Affair With China Gone Wrong

Good Chinese Wife Cover

Good Chinese Wife by Susan Blumberg-Kason is the must read book this year about China and international relationships. In this memoir Susan describes how she moves to Hong Kong for her master’s degree and by chance meets a handsome Chinese guy from Mainland China. On nightly tutoring sessions Susan and Cai fall in love, getting into a totally new adventure for Susan.

Unfortunately after getting married in Hong Kong, things slowly start to change and Susan finds herself making excuses behalf of her new husband. But whether it’s just about cultural differences or if it goes to fundamental differences between two people, that’s often hard to know at first.

“I wanted to respect Cai’s culture and show his parents that I enjoyed their cooking and appreciated their hospitality, but at the same time, I feared I’d grow resentful if I didn’t start standing up for myself.”

I don’t remember when I heard about Good Chinese Wife first, but I was thrilled when Jocelyn from Speaking of China contacted me and gave me the opportunity to review the memoir. And even be part of the official book tour! I finished the whole book in two days! Just couldn’t let it out of my hands once I started reading it. As I got married with my Chinese guy this year, I could in some regards relate to Susan’s story of how it’s like to fall in love with someone from a totally different culture.

I could relate to the excitement Susan had when she first sees Cai and how eagerly she waited for their every meeting. In some regard I also related to their visits to Cai’s parents, where she was first very polite and made sure to give a good impression. But soon she also learned an important thing, you have to be true to yourself if you want to be happy in your new family. According to her beliefs she didn’t eat pork and often politely declined cheering with alcohol.

“Until now I thought the strains we’d had in our marriage stemmed from cultural differences. But now I was beginning to consider whether the problems might be due to character, not to culture.”

Throughout the book you can feel how deeply Susan loves Cai and does everything she can to save their marriage. Her touching words and stories got me into tears the further read. With her book Susan is being so amazingly brave to let us all in to her life, openly sharing even the most bitter twists and turns in their love story.

Good Chinese Wife – A Love Affair With China Gone Wrong is a remarkable honest account of what happens when you fall head over your heels into love, without actually knowing the real person standing next to you. It’s the pain that comes when you start learning the ugly little truths about your loved one, when your heart still wants to make excuses for that person, thinking there might still be a good explanation for all the strange incidents.

I wholeheartedly recommend Susan Blumberg-Kason’s Good Chinese Wife to all of my readers. By reading the book you get an insider’s view of being a member of a Chinese family, how hard it can be to accept the truth that your international marriage isn’t what you bargained for and how brave you can be when it’s time to protect you and your child.

Susan Blumberg-Kason author photoSusan Blumberg-Kason is a freelance journalist in Chicago. As a child growing up in suburban Chicago, she dreamed of the neon street signs and double-decker buses of Hong Kong. In her late teens, she left for a year abroad in Hong Kong and ended up spending most of the twenties there. She studied Mandarin and completed a master’s degree in political science at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Susan is now back in the Chicago area, where she lives with her family. Her work has appeared in many newspapers and magazines. You can find her online at www.susanbkason.com.

Good Chinese Wife is now available for pre-orders on Amazon, click here to order your own copy of my favorite book of the year. If you decide to purchase the book through affiliate links in this post, you will also help to support my blog, thank you!

05/31/14

My Chinese husband is more foreign than the foreigners themselves

He is even more foreign than the foreigners! (他比外国人还外国人!) sighed out my mother-in-law one day about her son. And I can very well see her reasons on making this remark about my husband, he surely doesn’t fit the stereotypic box of Chinese men that articles like 8 reasons why Western women rarely marry Chinese men try to put them into.

The original post appeared on the China Daily Forum, from where the beginning of the article was transformed into a post on The World of Chinese. The article instantly got lots of comments on Facebook saying it gave the wrong impression on Chinese men and women with Chinese boyfriends and husbands mainly disagreed with the overgeneralizing post.

A fellow blogger from China elevator stories already shared her side of the story aka How my husband defeats almost every stereotype (some) people have about Chinese men. Now it’s my turn to take a look just how “well” my husband fits this stereotypic description.

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1. Chinese men are shy

On the night we first met, Alan was the one to stay and talk with me late into the night. He was also the one to take my hand and give me the first kiss. I would say my husband is the opposite of being shy as he is always the active one in making friends and arranging barbecue evenings for colleagues.

Being a stereotypically introverted Finn my self, my head is sometimes spinning on how quickly Alan manages to make friends no matter where he goes. Perhaps he was a bit nerdy when still at school, but he was beaming self-confidence when I met him.

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2. Chinese boys are spoiled

In Finland we also have the stereotype that children without siblings are a bit spoiled, but no matter if that’s true or not, my husband does have a little sister who does a fine job on bullying and making jokes of him. In terms of parenting I’m sure I have gotten the easier way with Finnish parenting style, a far cry from though Chinese parents that demand a lot from their kids.

Alan has always done things his own way, working hard after graduation to work on jobs that could help him to improve his skills. He is even studying for a Japanese language undergraduate degree while working full-time and flying across the South China for business.

It is true that Chinese parents do take care of their children perhaps more than other parents do. We are very grateful for his parents to let us move into the old family house and help us renovate it to its current stage. Also when still living with the parents, my mother-in-law did do her best to spoil us by cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, buying as fruits and so on. While I was still thinking of hanging those clothes to dry, she had done it already!

But spoiled? I think there has been a good balance of a caring mother and demanding parenting in Alan’s youth that has helped him to become the independent and ambitious person he is now.

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3. Chinese men are racially insecure, especially when compared to Caucasians

The stereotype I have that we are all introverted, shy and insecure compared to Americans. For some reason, the Americans I know are all very self-confident people and now exactly what they want and speak about things as they are.

But no one surely hadn’t told Alan that he should feel inferior just because of his ethnicity and nationality. He never though I would be out of reach just because I happen to be a Westerner and he is not.

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4. Chinese men are traditional

What actually constitutes as a traditional Chinese man? Well, according to the articles on China Daily and The World of Chinese it means…

Traditional people are usually not open-minded and will cut on romance, public displays of affection or even a good make-out session – a very integral part of a foreign woman’s fantasy.

I do happen to know Western girls that  date traditional Chinese boys, but my husband isn’t one of them. He has held my hand since day one no matter where we go and ignores the curious stares we get on the streets. When we used to take the same metro to school and work last year, he would always kiss me goodbye before getting of.

Romance perhaps is a one things that my husband could learn about. In China girls like to be pampered and drowned with gifts and flowers when dating, but when the married life begins, they prefer cold hard cash. As I have lived quite a secure life in the West, I don’t have many requirements for getting rich, but I’m girly enough to love romantic date nights. I just hope that next time a date night out doesn’t mean my husband takes me to watch Need for Speed.

Luckily things aren’t black and white, even Alan isn’t the most traditional man on the block, he still posses many good qualities of being a good Chinese man. He takes care of me and his family, always planning for a good future for us. He even carries my handbag if I want to! (See the photo above.)

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5. Chinese men cannot speak English well.

Guilty as charged! Alan’s English was quite rudimentary when we met, but at this age and time, it isn’t a problem at all! We foreign Women are learning Chinese and using Mandarin as the prime language of our relationship. Ruth from China elevator stories even writes how she isn’t sure of her husband’s English skills as they have Chinese as a love language.

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6. Chinese men love to save money

How does saving money affects on not being able to marry a foreign bride? According to the original article, spending money seems to equal romance. Of course if date night means dining in the most expensive restaurant in town, then sure being frugal could hurt you. But at the moment I would rather have a candlelit dinner at home eating something my husband have made him self!

Being good with money is actually one of the qualities I admire in Alan. Unfortunately I’m the person who is rich the first two weeks of the month and poor during the rest. My husbands good attitude towards spending money and saving it have had a big positive impact on me.

And is there anything more romantic that having a husband who wants to save money so that we and our future kids can have a good future together? (Not to mention how Alan often speaks how he needs to make money to buy a new laptop and mobile phone for me!)

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7. Chinese boys are too busy studying and men are too busy working

True!

My husband works for a Japanese company and in Japanese working culture official working hours doesn’t really mean much. You just can’t leave the office before your bosses and superiors go home. In both Japan and China it’s also a custom to treat customers for dinners and alcohol covered karaoke nights when signing the deal.

My husband often travels in South China because of his work, this week he was away two nights, next week three nights. But working hard and long hours doesn’t mean that a Chinese guy doesn’t have time for their loved one. For example right now he has a three-day holiday for the Dragon Boat Festival and he made sure to spend it with me.

In my husband’s case he wants to work hard now so that when we have children he would have more time to be with us.

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8. Chinese guys are relatively less social and out-going

Like I mentioned throughout this post, my husband is far more social and out-going than me. He thinks “the more the merrier” when I would just rather hang out just the two of us.

For a billion people, Chinese night clubs are too empty on average and since most foreign ladies hang out there, and Chinese men don’t go to them, they don’t get to meet the ladies.

The above claim on the original article doesn’t seem to ring true according to my findings. KTV might be the number one way for the Chinese people to have fun, but if you like bar hopping, those are full of both Chinese and foreigners here in Guangzhou. Not that a bar or a club is the best way to find your The One, but for me and Alan it luckily worked out.

 

Just like Ruth’s husband, Alan doesn’t really fit the overly generalized box of Chinese men painted out in the article. It is true that there are still far more Foreign men with Chinese wifes, but I predict that more and more foreign women will find their love with Chinese men as well.

How about you? What do you think are the reasons that few Western women marry Chinese men? And is your boyfriend or husband more traditional or more foreign?

01/25/14

Getting married in China: The paperwork in Finland

chinese marriage certificateOur quest for Chinese marriage certificates

Me and my Chinese fiance are getting married in China this Spring. We will get out marriage certificates on Valentine’s Day (if everything goes as planned) and have a Wedding party in the beginning of May. Getting married abroad to a foreigner means there is paperwork to be done. I have now luckily finished the first step and got my papers in order here in Finland.

The first thing was to get a Certificate of capacity under Finnish law to contract marriage before a foreign authority. It takes a week to get this documents which is in Finnish, Swedish, English and German. You get this document from the Local Register Office and with 11 euros they will notarize it as well.

Next seal has to come from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland which will certify the Local Register Office’s signature and seal. As I was running out of time, my plane leaving next Tuesday I decided to go to Helsinki my self to get the seals from both the ministry and the Chinese Embassy.

I took a 5.35am bus to Helsinki from my hometown and arrived early to get some breakfast and tea before taking a tram to the ministry. I was the second in line and got my document legalized in ten minutes.

Next I took the tram back to the city center and changed to a metro to Kulosaari. It was easy to find the Chinese Embassy with Google Maps downloaded the day before to my iPhone. As I have always gotten my visas through an agency, this was the first time I visited the embassy my self. Nothing special really, but it was nice to see other Finns going to China and even hear some of their stories.

It wasn’t possible to get the final seal to my document right away, instead I had to wait until the next morning. When I went back I noticed that they had written the wrong date on the paper and the legalization wasn’t done when I arrived. Luckily I got it after waiting for half and hour or so. The man behind the glass even congratulated me for getting married!

Getting the paperwork done in Finland was quite easy and straightforward:

  1. Certificate from the Local Register Office with a notarization signature and seal (11 euros)
  2. Legalization signature and seal from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (20 euros)
  3. Legalization signature and seal from the Chinese Embassy (43 euros for next day rush service)

It’s always important to check your own embassy, consulate or other office what kind of paperwork you need to get married abroad. Also remember to check the “marriage office” in China where you plan to get your marriage certificates as well. The correct paperwork always depends on your own nationality and the city you will get married in.

The next step for us is to get our documents and papers to the marriage office few days before The Day. Then on Valentine’s Day I will go there first to get our waiting number and my fiance will hopefully arrive on time from his business trip.

I have already planned a surprise for my fiance on Valentine’s Day, but our Wedding in May still needs a lot planning and mediating with the parents before everything is perfect.

I would love to write more about the Wedding planning, would you be interested in reading about it?

01/7/14

Engagement

finnish chinese coupleChinese men are said to be shy, but not when they know what they want. When I met my boyfriend Alan on 8th December 2012, he took my hand and decided not to let go. He talked about marriage very early on the relationship, like during the first days kind of early. I think that was his way to make sure I was in for real and for him to show he is serious with me.

Then one night last Autumn he asked for my hand. It’s an amazing feeling to know someone has chosen you and wants to spent the rest of his life with you. And even more amazing when you feel exactly the same. We bought our engagement rings on 24th November 2013 and told our parents and friends.

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We have now set the date for 2nd May 2014 and I’m happy that at least part of my family will be attending for sure. My mom, smallest brother, little sister and her boyfriend already bought tickets today. My older little brother and my dad are still unsure of their work schedules, but I hope they will make it.

I can’t believe that I’m able to spend my life with Alan and our story is just beginning.

At the moment I’m spending my holiday in Finland with my family and friends. Blog posts about Alan’s little sister’s Chinese wedding and how it feels like to be back home are on the way. If you want to follow my more recent news, you’re welcome to like my Facebook page.