When Cross-Cultural Marriage Can’t Find a Home – By Guest Blogger Susan Blumberg-Kason

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CoverPlease welcome author Susan Blumberg-Kason as she joins me on the blog book tour for her new memoir, Good Chinese Wife (Sourcebooks, July 29, 2014), which is already receiving rave reviews. Susan grew up in Chicago dreaming of the neon signs and double-decker buses of Hong Kong. When she moved there, she thought she met the man of her dreams, until her cross-cultural romance turned into a nightmare. Good Chinese Wife recounts her years in a Chinese family as a wife, daughter-in-law, and mother. Today she shares with us the importance of place in a cross-cultural marriage:

When Cross-Cultural Marriage Can’t Find a Home By Susan Blumberg-Kason

When I first met Baba, my former father-in-law, he told me a Chinese proverb—ai wu ji wu. It took me a few minutes to understand the English translation relayed by my then-husband, Cai. After discussing it between ourselves for a bit, I figured this saying was basically the Chinese version of “love me, love my dog.”

Baba knew I came from more abundant means. He had seen American homes on the television programs broadcast from Hollywood, dubbed into Mandarin. So he wanted me to understand that as long as Cai and I loved one another, nothing else would matter, including Mama and Baba’s bare-bones living conditions in central China.

But these words never helped my marriage, especially when we visited Mama and Baba in mainland China and later when we moved to San Francisco. Things were a little better during our three years in Hong Kong, the place where Cai and I met in graduate school. It was during that time in Hong Kong that I first read Betty Lee Sung’s book, Chinese American Intermarriage (Center for Migration Studies, 1990), which concluded that marriages like mine—in which the husband is from China and the wife from a western country—work best when the couple lives in a neutral country, i.e. a place that is new to both spouses.

According to Sung, couples who live in the West often face difficulty when the man is from China and the woman from the West. When I read her book the first time in Hong Kong, I thought I would be able to defy these odds when the time came for Cai and me to settle in San Francisco. When I searched the book out several years later, after we had moved to California, I worried for myself because I saw in my own marriage many of the problems outlined in the book.

Cai and I weren’t even in San Francisco for 24 hours before he started to doubt if he could live in the United States. Public transportation there paled in comparison to what he was used to in Hong Kong, a place he had only lived for three years. Stores in California weren’t open as late as in Hong Kong, nor were people out and about as they were in Hong Kong or in any city in mainland China. He found life in America quiet, sad, and meaningless. I figured he would change once he learned to drive and find a job, but that wasn’t to be. Cai had more friends in San Francisco than I did, but even that didn’t seem to matter. Fatherhood didn’t change him in that respect either.

Over the years as I’ve thought about what went wrong and what I could have done differently, I’ve scratched my head in wonder. We chose San Francisco because it is a cosmopolitan city with a large Asian—and Chinese—population. We were fortunate in that we had just enough money for him to take his time to find a job he enjoyed. But he never found a full-time job in the two years we lived in San Francisco together.

Would Cai have adjusted better if he had arrived in the U.S. as a student instead of an academic looking for work? Not necessarily. I’ve had friends whose Chinese husbands haven’t been treated well in U.S. academia, and they first came to America as students.

Or would it have been easier on us if I’d been the Chinese woman and he the Western man? Perhaps. I’ve known plenty of Chinese women who have married non-Chinese men and have enjoyed a happy life in the U.S.

It’s been a while since Cai and I divorced and I no longer think about what-ifs. But recently I found myself listening intently when I met with a friend my mother’s age who had married her Chinese husband almost 50 years ago and spent 40 of those years in Hong Kong. My friend told me that she advises cross-cultural couples to spend some time living in both home countries before they decide if they should get married.

But even before I read Sung’s book or learned of my friend’s wise advice, I knew that Cai and I would have a difficult time finding a place to live, one that would suit both of us. Even before Baba conveyed the Chinese proverb, Cai had told me that he wanted to move back to China after finishing graduate school in Hong Kong. I thought I could change that once he saw America. But in the end, he was right. He’s now living in China and I’m in the U.S.

***

 author photo

These days, Susan is back in Chicago, where she lives with her husband, three children, and surly cat. Susan still loves China and often writes about it in her blog. She also blogs on such topics as world travel, book reviews, and raising multi-cultural children. You can order your copy of Good Chinese Wife at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or IndieBound.

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Death Practice

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Duck-Soup-poster-marx-brothers-9268877-341-475I think about death a lot. That’s not to say I’m obsessed or depressed. It’s just one of the two weirdest things I’ve ever been aware of: the inevitability of my demise, of the demise of all of us. The other weirdest thing: that I’m here in the first place, that we’re all here. As a storyteller, how can I not be attracted to questions of existence and oblivion? Sure, I believe in a God, a spiritual universe, and an afterlife. But that’s faith. I have no scientific proof. The only things I’m sure of are the same things all living humans are sure of: there was a time I was not alive, now I am, someday I won’t be again.

I recently heard an interview on Colorado Public Radio with Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and author Sara Davidson, about The December Project, her book about the aging Rabbi’s preparations for death. We’re talking some intense preparations. Let’s call them “death practice.” He practiced drawing his last breath, practiced choosing his final moment, even got into a coffin so he could practice being dead. He also did some things you might typically expect: reviewed his life, forgave others, forgave himself. His purpose was to prepare mindfully for the end of life, or as he put it: “to not freak out about death.”

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Water From the Bathroom Faucet

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FaucetWhy does the coldest water in the house always come out of the bathroom sink, never the kitchen faucet? It makes sense to me that water seems colder coming from the garden hose, because I only drink from the hose when I’m outside on a hot summer day. It’s cold by comparison of course. But what is the allure of the water in the bathroom, even when that room is not hot and steamy?

Is it because the water in that private little room seems forbidden, because that’s a place meant only for washing up, or taking care of business, or sneaking in some shower sex—not for the simple pleasure of drinking water with naked hands, not so much as a glass in sight? Or is it only my bathroom that has such delicious, icy-cold water, while yours delivers the stuff at ordinary room temperature?

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When We Have No Time to Hike

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SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAWhen life gets so busy, whether with necessary tasks or the pursuit of our dreams, that it feels as if we have no time, I believe it’s even more critical to carve out moments to connect with nature. I’m sometimes tempted to ignore the call of the outdoors and keep writing about whatever inspiring idea has me in its grip, or to keep doing all the things others expect of me until I’m depleted, or to crash in front of the TV because its easier to passively take in someone else’s story after a hard day. Mostly those things tempt me because I convince myself that enjoying nature will require me to spend a lot of time planning or preparing, or to spend all day far from the city. Not true.

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Meets Expectations

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imagesI was riding my bike past my neighborhood middle school when I saw a banner near the entry proclaiming, “Meets Expectations!” and now I can’t stop wondering what they’re so excited about. I find it sad that our country’s well-intentioned push for accountability and inclusion has somehow led to a celebration of mediocrity. Some part of me would rather fail than meet expectations, because at least it might mean the chance for someone to show up and demand sweeping change. Better yet, it might mean that someone simply decided to rage against the machine and do what they were told not to do – which requires imagination.

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The Three-Moon Party

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SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAI’m sharing some flash fiction with you today. This story is just under 500 words. Enjoy:

I hate these three-moon parties. The forced laughter, its stabbing awkwardness rising like painful rocks from the subtle surf of Tantalon Island. Someone always telling the same stale joke about how our planet’s three moons must be female because three men could never stand together for so long. Cortenya’s parties prove that old adage is not true. We stand on the beach in trios: two men and a woman, or two women and a man, and sometimes three men.

However we stand, each group sows suspicion of what goes on in that group over there. What are they saying about us?

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Playing In The Dirt

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Cara Asparagus 2I planted veggies, fruits, and flowers today, and though it was tiring work, I found myself grinning as I recalled the feeling of playing in the dirt as a child. There is a primitive satisfaction in the idea of plunging my hands into mud, clay, or sand. The cool, dark, fecund dampness feels like a return to beginnings.

I dug up soil, dropped in columbine roots surrounded by more soil, and then topped it with yet more soil. As I did so, I remembered the zinnia seeds I planted in a small pot when I was seven. I watered the soil and waited for the multi-colored blooms pictured on the seed packet to sprout. I felt such failure and loss when the picture never emerged. Did I water them too much or not enough? Should I have talked to them more? Were they duds? It was my first lesson that even a seed given water, soil, and sun might not meet all the conditions to survive. I had suspected that life was not easy, but this was nature’s own proof.

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When Writing Is A Battle

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Aircraft CarrierA couple of weeks ago I finished the first draft of my novel, and paused to take that single breath of victory before diving back into battle. At first, I’m nervous to use the word battle, because I fear someone will tell me to relax or not to struggle. I myself used to say I preferred effort to struggle. But I love telling stories, and in telling the most meaningful stories, I find that struggle is not a bad word. A good story always has a conflict, and a conflict is a struggle between opposing forces. So when I write, I create battles and feel battles and communicate battles of one sort or another. Actual war does play a role in my book, as does family betrayal, sexual violation, and racism. So the idea of storyteller as warrior might make some sense.

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My So-Called Writing Process Deconstructed

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SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAWhen Ilona Fried of the À La Carte Spirit blog invited me to a blog-hop on writing, I was thrilled for a different reason than you might think. Yes, I love to write about writing. Yes, I felt honored to be chosen by a wise, thought-provoking blogger. I’m also in awe of Ilona’s talent at creating exuberant beauty with mosaic art. But the main source of my delight was this: Ilona sometimes writes about introversion and I sometimes worry I might drive her mad with my frequent bouts of extroversion. (I’m equal parts extrovert and introvert.) It seems she either a) has not tired of all I have to say, or b) would like me to say it to someone else. ;) Thank you for the invite, Ilona. Here are my answers to the four questions passed down to us:

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Drivers Who Want to Kill Us

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SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAWhy do so many people transform into stupid, selfish, dangerous meanies when they step into their cars? In the past two days, I’ve listened to people lay heavily on the horn because: 1) I was waiting at a stop sign so a car that was almost upon our intersection and had no stop sign could pass, 2) I was waiting before making a left turn on a green light because two pedestrians were walking directly in my path in the crosswalk and a motorcycle was coming our way, and 3) I was waiting to turn right because a man was in the crosswalk.

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