personal note: I decided to share my book with friends and students in mainland China because it is too expensive to order one from America. Enjoy it and share it with you people you care and love. Peace, Steve, usa July 29, 2019 firstname.lastname@example.org blog – https://getting2knowyou-china.com
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George brought his new girl friend home during the recent Spring Festival holidays to meet his parents. In China, Spring Festival is not just an ancient traditional festival, focusing on family reunions, but for many it marks the beginning of something new. For one, it is the beginning of a new year and all the observances and practices reflect that strong Chinese belief. It is more than turning over a new leaf. It is a new beginning for anyone. You clean the house and chase out all the demons and evil spirits of the past year. The louder the firecrackers, the further away the evil spirits would go. You wear new clothes and cut your hair. You avoid saying or using any bad words. You show abundance on the tables with plenty of foods to last for the rest of the year. That is the reason why orthodox Chinese would not eat the whole fish the first time because the word fish in Chinese means abundance, and you want the fish to last a long time. You would do anything and everything to guarantee another year of success, good health, good luck and happiness for the whole family. And you must include your ancestors in everything you do during a new year.
And so, what better time to bring your girlfriend home, hoping for the parents to say yes and bestow their blessings on your choice of a new girlfriend or a future wife. There are stories about young men who would resort to “renting” young females to accompany them home to make their parents think their sons are serious about getting married in the near future. One way to avoid further questioning by parents and relatives. In some cases, the sons would not return home on this occasion to avoid further embarrassment or “face” because they have not been able to find a future wife, especially if they are in their late 20s or so. This is China.
The New Year is not a good time for many young adults—male or female—because they have to face many questions from parents and close relatives: when do you plan to get married? Do you have a good paying job? When are you planning to have a baby? Many young adults do not want to face the embarrassment and so they would not return home for the most important holiday of the year. And their common excuse: I am busy working. True, but not so true, in some cases.
But George was in for a real surprise or shock. “She is ugly,” the mother told him after their first meeting at the family home. Obviously the mother did not approve of this new young traffic police officer. And she was not about to listen to George’s reasons for loving her. And she made it clear to her son, this was also what the priest in a temple said to her, that “the two are not suitable for each other.” That was it. No room for bargaining. The heavens had also declared them unsuitable for each other.
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George talked to me via the telephone. His feelings were numb. I heard sounds but no life or passion. “I did not go home with her. I was supposed to spend this weekend with her parents. But I did not go. I am here with my parents. What should I do?” George accepted the decision of his mother. Fate intervened again, the second time.
Again George and I would take our time to go through the events leading to this unfortunate encounter between his girlfriend and his mother. As a filial son, he again listened to her and broke up his relationship with his girl friend.
Patiently, George told me the whole story. “When I first met her, I felt the same about her. She is not pretty, Steve. She is ugly. My mom is right. But we have spent a few months together now. Something happened. My thinking started to change. She took care of me. She cooked breakfast for me. She made many things for me. She made me happy. And I did not think about her as being ugly anymore. Yes, my mother is right. She is ugly. But I do not think about it anymore. She is a wonderful girl. She is very kind and nice to me. Now I will try my best to break up with her.” This would not be the first time students would confide in me: “She is not beautiful but she is nice to me.” George felt confident he could do it, breaking up with her, without destroying the relationship they now have. “I think we can still be friends…”
After this George told me that he and some of his best male friends took a trip to a northern province for a weekend to climb a famous mountain. In China mountain climbing is something many people would do during their national holidays. Two things are famous in China: rivers and mountains. They also dominate many traditional Chinese paintings and scrolls. There are some famous mountains in Chinese history. And George and his friends would be climbing up one of them. A good time for him to heal a new wound in his heart.
This time I did say something to George and he listened to me attentively. It was about his response as a filial son to his mother.
“I am also a Chinese and I understand why you did what you did when your mother told you she was not the right girl for you. And she had the support of the temple, the priest and the heavens. And did your mother go to consult a priest in a temple? That I would never know. But it is obvious she did not approve of your relationship with the traffic police officer. Because she is ugly.”
“She is ugly, Steve?”
“I worry because of what she might say to you about the next girl you bring home for
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her evaluation and approval? She is too fat! She is too tall and thin! Her nose is too flat! Or her mouth is too big! What then, George? What then?”
Some parents worry if the girl is the only child, that their son might spend too much time with her family. So they prefer if the girls have brothers in the family. Some parents worry if the girl lives in a far away province or remote village or town. All that distant travels will reduce his time with his parents. There are rumors that parents in Quanzhou, a prosperous city in Fujian Province, would only find rich boys for their daughters. It does not matter if their daughters have a college degree or worthy skills. Fathers are known to pay prospective grooms millions of yuan if the boys are willing to marry their daughters. The mass media came to one spectacular wedding in Quanzhou to witness the bride heavily laden or covered with gold jewelry all over her body on her wedding day. I knew about this because a female student went home to Quanzhou to see this for herself.
In fact George’s parents live not far from Quanzhou. But the mother has other concerns about her future daughter-in-law. “There is no end to it, George. I mean your mother will continue to choose a wife for you.”
Even though George and I had known each other for about seven years or so, I struggled to say what I hoped would be the right thing without offending his adult thinking and the Chinese traditions and culture. It was going to be difficult to do what I was about to tell him to do, but he must try. He must. There is no other alternative right now.
“Mom, I know you care for me. You care about everything since I was a little boy. You want me to be happy. You and dad work very hard so I could have a good education and a good life. You want me to live in a comfortable apartment. You want to make sure everything is ok with me. I am now working for the government and I am making good money. I will try very hard to take good care of myself. I believe I am old enough to make some important decisions for my life. I am not a little boy anymore. You must allow me to make some important decisions for my life and my future. The truth is you will not be here forever to take care of me. It is time I must learn to make some important decisions for myself. And that means I must choose the woman I will marry one day. I have to live with her 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You must allow me to do this for myself. You will not be here forever to take care of me or to make important decisions for me. I hope you understand what I am saying to you. This does not mean I do not love you and dad anymore. It means it is time I learn to take care of myself. If not now, when? I must do it now.”
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As a Chinese myself, I knew in my mind George would not do it because he is too much of a Chinese, steeped in Chinese culture to speak freely and openly to his parents. It is not going to happen but I wanted him to know what I think is the right thing to do now.
Things might have been radically different if George had grown up in America where parents and children are more open with each other starting at an early age. At least I tried. When my son was in high school, I started by saying this to him about life and problems and what we should do to deal with them as they come to us. “Lay the cards on the table.” I repeated this a million times. “I am not going to say yes or no to you or to the problems until I have seen all the cards on the table. After reviewing the cards, and after some sharing and exchanging of ideas and opinions on the issues or problems before us, I will only say yes if I think it is going to benefit you, or no if I think it is going to hurt you now and in the long run.” He understood every word I said and that is the way we learned to communicate to each other until he graduated from college and started his own life as an adult.
As his mentor and friend, George has a long way to go to convince his parents he is adult enough to run his own life. And why? Because George will always be a Chinese, not an American. But it seemed George did something about this because after returning from mountain climbing and in a short time his mother did listen to him and changed her mind about the girl. “I would be marrying her soon,” George made this shocking announcement one day to me in late 2015 when I was back in America. I have to believe George did talk to his mom again and a new approach to the marriage issue did work and that eventually “persistence” won her heart. He is happily married now.
Is it a miracle or persistence? I will never know.
This is China.