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Guest Post – How I Met My Wife and Lost My Visa: Chinese-Foreigner Relationships in the 90’s

Today’s guest post comes from Mr. Kuaizi, who writes wonderful comments in response to many of my posts (and sometimes he eve agrees with me).  He writes a blog that covers a wide variety of topics, and that can be found here. I was very thankful that he agreed to share his story for the first time here for all of you.

After reading much of the commentary on foreigner/Chinese relationships related to Tom’s recent post on “I hate the Chinese ideas about marriage”, I feel compelled to offer some of my own insight on the subject matter.

I am American and my wife is Chinese. We first met in China more than 15 years ago when I was there on scholarship teaching English and studying Chinese and have been married for more than 12 years with an 11-year-old son. I can tell you that relationships between foreigners and Chinese in China are not easy – or at least they have not always been so.

When we started going out (and I use that term very loosely), we did so in secret. If the school had discovered that we were dating, they likely would have taken action against one or both of us. In the end, my extension to continue teaching for another semester was denied – in large part, I believe, because they had finally discovered our relationship. In the end, it was probably for the best because the pressure on us to maintain a relationship in such secrecy would have proven too much to continue successfully.

If we went anywhere outside of the school, it was incumbent upon us to ensure that we were accompanied by other teachers. This was as much to ensure the secrecy of our relationship as it was to protect her from any recriminations. At that time, there was nowhere near as many foreigners as there are today and all relationships were far more formalized. Indeed, seeing foreigners at all was often still something of a novelty. Seeing them in a relationship with Chinese was still not something that was looked fondly upon.

It is also worth pointing out that neither of us had family nearby. My wife is from northern China while I am from the US – we were teaching in southern China. At that time, I had not met her family and it would be another year after we separated before she told them of our relationship. When I asked her to marry me, it was with the condition that her family meet me and approve since I knew they would not agree otherwise (nor did I blame them). It was three years after we first met before I was able to return to China to meet her family and bring her back to the US. During those three years, we had communicated weekly by phone and letter (this was before the days of prolific internet usage) and I had the phone bills to prove it. Her family knew we were serious and finally assented to the marriage – unhappy though they were that she would be moving to the US as a result. When I finally did meet her parents and have the opportunity to show them I was serious and would be a good husband, they agreed to the marriage.

But not everyone was so agreeable. When we went out in her hometown together, I remember one day where she told me (after the fact) that she was almost near tears hearing others talk about her in a very negative fashion for being with a foreigner. I won’t repeat the comments but it was clear that it was considered unacceptable by some Chinese to be dating a foreigner. The clear implication was that she was of loose moral standards, probably a gold-digger and in it for the money.

When we returned two years later with our 1-year-old son, he was an object of fascination for many people who were less than subtle in wanting to see him. My most vivid memory is being at a hotel in Beijing before our return flight home. While my wife checked us in, my mother-in-law told me to wait in the car (so as not to attract undue attention) while she held our son outside to keep him calmed down. However, the sight of a mixed-race child was enough attention unto itself and others still persisted in wanting to see the child and knowing about the parents (who obviously were not both Chinese). In this case, it was more fascination than criticism but it still was telling in how Chinese viewed inter-cultural relationships (at least to me).

One final example was on our most recent trip to China several years ago. While shopping in the historical district of my wife’s hometown, I wanted to stop by a store that was selling silk Chinese tunics. When we walked in (my wife, myself and our son), the owner immediately went to my wife and asked if she was from the same city and then proceeded to suggest that they could charge the foreigner more if I wanted to buy something. He evidently thought that she was my translator though I’m not sure how he came to that conclusion (since his wife immediately saw the connection between us). Making it worse for him was that he was saying these things in front of me – thinking I was just another foreigner who didn’t speak Chinese. His wife finally got his attention and straightened him out – but too late for us to drive a better bargain for what we eventually purchased. The key point here was that, even though our son was with us, he automatically assumed that she was just my translator rather than my wife.

These are just some of my experiences on the negative side of how inter-cultural relationships are viewed in China. But I will add that my in-laws have been very good and accepting of our relationship so we have been very fortunate from that perspective. Certainly, with greater numbers of foreigners in China, the number of relationships will likely grow and society will (hopefully) become less judgmental. And, indeed, there have been changes, especially with the younger generation and in the cities. But there is still a little ways to go. (Thanks to Tom for letting me share this.)

If you have any questions for Mr. Kuazi, just leave them below and he will be happy to answer them.


13 Comments

  1. NiubiCowboy says:

    Great post Chopstik! I’ve always had an interest in the experiences of 1st generation immigrants in the United States and how they cope with issues of integration and assimilation as they strive to maintain a bond with the country of their birth. So, having said that, my questions are (1) what does/did your wife find most difficult about adjusting to life in the US and (2) with your son being a 2nd generation Chinese-American, what does he think about China even at 11 years old?

    • Chopstik says:

      NiubiCowboy, I’ll leave your question for my wife to her (I’ve shown her your questions and she will hopefully formulate a response in the next few days). As for my son, though he’s been to China several times and had his grandparents visit him here, I don’t believe he really thinks about China a great deal. He speaks very little Chinese and shows little inclination to learn. He has little appetite for Chinese food or culture though we have tried to keep him involved. He clearly identifies himself as an American, though in the last year or two, he has shown a little more interest in China and his Chinese heritage. We haven’t really identified one single cause for this attitude but he seems pretty clear about it to this point. Perhaps, as he becomes more aware of the world around him, he will choose to learn more about that part of himself and his heritage.

      I will add one short thought tied to this. Last night, we watched a documentary on a subject that I will not discuss on this blog (so as to not create problems for Tom) but that I have discussed on my own blog concerning events of 20 years ago in China. It was eye-opening to my wife (who had never seen some of the footage nor heard about all of those events) but, even more important, it opened my son’s eyes about half of his heritage. We were not trying to give him a negative view of China but to give him an opportunity to ask questions and to learn a little more. And he did have a few that we tried to answer as directly as we could so as to give him more insight into China. He may never have the interest in China that both his mother and I have but he seems to be willing to be more interested in the subject so that is a good thing. Sorry, didn’t mean to drag out this response but being brief is occasionally a challenge for me. 🙂

      Once my better half has formulated her response, I will post it here.

      • NiubiCowboy says:

        Chopstik,

        You didn’t drag it out at all! You and your wife seem extremely thoughtful in the way you’ve approached the question of your son’s Chinese heritage. I very much appreciated the length and depth of your response. Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my question. I’m looking forward to reading your wife’s response!

  2. Sara says:

    Thank you for sharing your story Mr. Kuaizi. It is not always easy to maintain a happy relationship when people around you are staring, commenting and criticizing you and your better half. Is the situation now better f0r Chinese women and foreign men? It seems that nowadays there are quite many couples where the girl is from China and the boy from the West.

    Atleast it isn’t too easy for us Western women with Chinese boyfriends (or husbands). It’s amazing how Chinese people and some Western people too seem that it’s their right and obligation to criticize other’s relationships.

    • Chopstik says:

      Sara, I’m not sure how it is in China today. My last trip back to China was 5 years ago and that was when we encountered the shop owner who thought that she was my translator. However, that being said, it seems that things have improved in recent years. (Tim and Yan Jiang may be able to offer better insight on things in China today.) We have not encountered some of the overt anger or disapproval that we did previously but whether that is because we are slightly older and have a child approaching his teens and people believe that we are a “true” couple rather than just using each other is another question.

      To be honest, I’ve not encountered as many relationships (either in or outside of China) between Western women and Chinese men – though one of my best friends is in that relationship – so it is hard for me to address that particular line of thought. I would be curious to know how you find it in that relationship if you feel inclined to share.

      • Sara says:

        As a western girl living with a Chinese guy I’ve seen and heard different reactions, but mostly negative or puzzled. Some western girls don’t see Asian guys attractive and one friend of mine just couldn’t understand what I was doing with my little bit younger Chinese boyfriend.

        Chinese people assume that my boyfriend must be rich and well-off because he managed to get a foreign girlfriend. And when they find out that is not the case then they ask me why I chose him or usually just say I should get another boyfriend and I can do much better. Some Chinese guys have basically offered them selves to be my boyfriend.

        Also western people assume that a Chinese guy must do well if he has a western girlfriend. One western guy told me that I don’t have to worry anything in my life because Chinese guys always pay everything for their girlfriends.

        Then there are a few of those western men that think western women are dating downwards if they have an Asian boyfriend. Those men don’t see Asian men as good as them selves. These men can be quite racist.

        Once I was joking with my friend and said: “If I cut off everyone who criticize my relationship then I don’t have any friends.” Luckily it’s not true, but living in China it’s terrifyingly close.

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  4. Ryan says:

    @Chopstik: Thanks a lot for sharing your story, and I can definitely relate to much of it. In particular:

    … even though our son was with us, he automatically assumed that she was just my translator rather than my wife.

    This happens to me all the time. Our son just turned one, and regardless of having him in tow and obviously being a family unit, shopkeepers routinely ask my wife if she’ll help them rip off the foreigner for a bit of extra profit.

    I can also relate to the endless questions and stares that having our little “mixed blood” with us encourages. My wife just commented yesterday that the women at the local market have finally stopped asking questions about our son, but now they’re laying in with questions about his father.

    We are fortunate though that things are changing, as my wife (of 4 years, and partner of 6 years) has only occasionally faced the harsh criticisms that were whispered to your wife in public for “being with a foreigner”. I’m sure she could still relate though, as even in small doses, it’s tough to ignore and be unaffected by it.

    • Chopstik says:

      Ryan, the more things change, the more they remain the same. I love China and would like to be able to go more but sometimes the pressure on both my wife and I because we are a mixed relationship gets to be too much and living there permanently (which we’ve discussed off and on for years) remains something to which we’re unable to commit for now. Having to deal with the constant attention and occasional sniping is something that is difficult to handle all of the time – and this from someone who does not like being under constant attention (hard to avoid when you stand out the way I do in China). Thanks for sharing!

  5. Tim says:

    Good stuff Chopstik.
    Sorry I didn’t comment on this a few days ago, the visa application preparation has been consuming all my time. We file tomorrow. Your experiences are what I have to look forward too for the rest of my life (at least for the parts of it spent in China). Thanks for sharing.

    A single question:
    If you could go back and do anything differently, what would it be (if anything)?

    • Chopstik says:

      Tim, good luck with the visa application. My experience in that regard is different as my wife came to the US under a fiancee visa, not as a spouse. We dealt with the embassy for about 2 years in regards to this, trying to gather information and ensure that we had everything we needed to prove we were legitimate – not to mention to ensure that this was what we both wanted. Funny thing was, by the time she showed up for the interview in Guangzhou, the staff (upon learning who she was) commented, “Oh, so YOU’RE the one who has been calling us with your fiance for the last two years!” Needless to say, that helped to demonstrate to the visa office that she was legit. 🙂

      To answer your question is a little harder. I try my best to live a life with no regrets and spend little time contemplating how I might have changed things in the past. (Funny thing for a man who spends so much time learning history.) After all, if things in the past were changed, I would not be the same man I am today. That isn’t to say that I don’t sometimes wish I had not had certain experiences but, without them, who knows where I would be today.

      That being said, you’ve piqued my curiosity as to what I might have done differently. I think I might have tried to be more aware and cognizant of Chinese culture when it came to weddings and family relations. This is not to say that I did not know them but that I made some mistakes in terms of my relationships and how I interacted with people due to misunderstandings based on cultural differences. Not that they harmed me or my family to a great degree, but they might have eased some difficulties that arose at various times. Not sure if there are others – I’ll have to think about it…

  6. […] Guest Post – How I met my wife and lost my visa, intercultural relationships in the 90′s […]

  7. Anonymous says:

    Great honest piece! Yours was true love indeed. U scaled through, in spite of the peculiar challenges involved. Bless you for sharing!

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