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.

02/14/15

Our First Anniversary

Wedding Cake

One year ago in 14th February 2014 it was no ordinary Valentine’s Day. On that year the Chinese Lantern Festival fell on the exact same day, being held on the 15th of the first month of the lunar calendar. As Lantern Festival is also considered a Chinese Valentine’s Day, it was a double lucky day, the perfect day to register our marriage.

Even though we had our Wedding later in May both with Chinese and Finnish characteristics, we still consider the Valentine’s Day as our anniversary. Easy to remember too!

After our wedding we finally moved to our own house, the old family house, and started our life together surrounded by history and four cats. I’m probably the worst person to be given a big house to live as I’m not the housekeeping kind, but it’s been great to have a real home where you can decorate and arrange furniture just the way you like it. I hope we will have lots of happy years in this Chinese house with a lot of character.

The Autumn was so busy we barely even saw each other. I was at the university from Monday to Friday, sometimes from morning till late night. Alan was taking English lessons on the Saturdays so Sundays became our only time to relax and have fun together. Our first year as a married couple ended with our honeymoon to Malaysia, from where I will share more photos later on.

All in all it’s great to be married to a man like Alan who understands and supports you when you pursue things that are important for you. Alan is a husband who always puts his family first. The other day when I told him to always be by my side, he replied: “Of course I will always be by your side, and our kids too.”

09/9/14

Wedding Planning In China

Life’s been busy since the new semester started few weeks ago. Starting of my master’s degree means lessons, lectures and internship. On top of that I have started tutoring a beginner learner two times per week. Lots of exciting things!

Before I have time to continue with the travel posts from Hangzhou and Suzhou, I show you my first video for Out and About in China Youtube channel. In this short video I go over the 4 basic steps in wedding planning and also offer a few tips for others who are planning their multicultural wedding.

Hope you enjoy the video! Please subscribe to our Youtube channel for more videos around Asia.

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!

05/24/14

The Perfect Finnish-Chinese Wedding Part 2

After our Chinese wedding it was time to head to the Ascott to get the party started! As we weren’t sure if our old house would be ready before the wedding day, we had no other choice than look for other party venues. After a few stressful days of hunting the place, I remember that luxurious apartment hotel right next to Taikoohui shopping mall. In the end it was a great choice for the Finnish part of our wedding!

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So right when our Chinese wedding banquet ended, we rushed back home to gather the things and take off my beautiful, but movement-restricted qipao.Me, my family, my bridesmaids, the photographer and the make-up artist head to the Ascott first to get everything ready for the guests. We had about 140 guests at the banquet, but the evening party was for about 30 to 35 closest friends and family.

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Something borrowed. My bridesmaid Ellen was generous to lend me her beautiful set of pearl earrings and a necklace. I think it fit perfectly with my white wedding gown.

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After preparing the two bedroom and a living room apartment for the party, my make-up artist helped me to fix my make-up, create a new hairstyle that matched my veil and dressed me to my dream dress. Originally I had wanted to go with something super cheap, but when I started dress shopping I realized that dirt cheap doesn’t go hand in hand with “the wedding gown of my dreams”. Of course at 2100RMB is was still so much cheaper than would have been in Finland. And custom-made!

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I didn’t know if I wanted to wear the veil before the time actually came. Thought it would be a bit silly, but actually it was the dot on top of the i like we say in Finland, the final touch to my look.

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On that afternoon I was so grateful that I was having a Chinese-Finnish wedding, for a more superficial reason, I got to wear two outfits! I didn’t have to choose between to amazing options, but could have both instead! I loved the transformation from the traditional Chinese look to the modern but classy bride for the party.

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My husband hadn’t seen my wedding gown before, it was very important for me to surprise him two times in one day with both of the dresses. So he and the guests waited for me at the lobby…

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I have multiple photos and a video clip of this moment when Alan is eagerly waiting for me. My mom said that he was like a kid in the candy store!

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I was quite nervous my self too! Even though we had already been married few months and the Chinese wedding banquet was already over, I still felt butterflies in my stomach when I slowly walked towards my husband.

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I hope someone would have told me to fix the ribbon!

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After group photos we all went upstairs and started the party with toasting sparkling wine and non-alcohol pear drink from Ikea.

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Once again me and Alan drank our “first drink” together.

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Showing off the custom-made stickers I ordered from Taobao. I still have many left and don’t know what to do with them.

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Then it was time to eat! I ordered the food from Perry’s, which is the place where I met my husband and they gladly agreed to do it. I was so worried that guests would go hungry that I ended up ordering way too much food.

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In Finland it’s not a real wedding without some wedding games and activities! One of the classic ones is the shoe game where the couple will hear statements like “Cooks the best food” or “The smartest one” and will answer by holding up the right shoe. Alan’s shoe represents him and my shoe represents me.

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Here Alan is wondering what to answer to the statement “Who has the wackiest family”!

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In the end we agreed on most of the questions! Which according to my little sister, maid-in-honor, means a peaceful marriage.

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Cutting the wedding cake is an important tradition as well. The one who stomps the ground first while cutting the cake, is also the one who decides the “placement of the bookshelf” aka is the decision maker in the house. On the right you can see my sister holding my dress in order to allow me to get my foot ready. In the end my sweet hubby very clearly waited a second to let me stomp my foot first.

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Blueberry cheesecake continued the blue-Finnish theme.

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The first dance is an important part of the Finnish wedding even though many couples, including as, choose not to waltz it anymore. For our song I had chosen a popular Finnish first dance song to be played, the name of the song is I love you.

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Before the song was over something started to happen! Alan had no idea that the Finnish tradition includes stealing of the bride!

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In order to get his bride back, the groom has to complete tasks assigned by the robbers. The robbers said that they have four different tasks for Alan to solve before I could be returned.

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First of all, a man should be brave. Brave enough to eat a Finnish candy called the Tyrkisk Peber.

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Secondly, a man should be strong. What the robbers didn’t know is that Alan started going to the gym five months before our wedding.

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Thirdly, a man should be wise and intelligent. Smart enough to read a Finnish sentence: Minä rakastan sinua eniten koko maailmassa. (I love you the most in the whole wide world)

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And finally the most important quality of a man, he should be loving. In this task Alan had to share five different reasons for choosing and loving me. And I gotta tell you, those reasons came like from the pharmacy’s shelf (Finnish saying), he needed no time at all to consider his answers.  I got my final confirmation that I really married the best man possible!

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After all the tasks successfully the robbers asked me if I wanted to go back to Alan and of course I wanted!

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All the games had now ended and it was time to dance! Alan danced with my mom, his mom and his aunt. I asked Alan’s dad for a dance, but when he smilingly refused, I got to dance with his uncle instead. That was inter-cultural bonding at it’s best, seeing Alan’s family to enjoy our Finnish party so much that they stayed later they had planned!

We even had to change to the party songs to get the kids and the old folks to head home. My sister was in charge of the music and we heard some unforgettable classics from the 90’s, flavored with some Finnish songs as well. I have never seen my family or friends dancing so wildly before!

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YMCA is of course a must for every party as it’s easy dance moves get everybody on the dance floor!

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At midnight our 11-hour wedding spectacle had come to an end. But that was just the beginning of our story together.

To be continued…

p.s. If you have enjoyed the Studying Chinese posts in my blog, you can vote for me at the Top 100 Language Learning Blogs 2014 competition. Thank you! (Find me by my name Sara Jaaksola)