Agenda Magazine interview

Some of you know that I recently did an article with Agenda Magazine in Beijing.   This interview was a little different because my husband actually participated in it.   He usually stays out of the spot light.. but this time.. he was game.  Enjoy!

Jo and Michael Gan, modern couple, blogger and blogee


Love is many a complicated thing. That thing, when seasoned with about three thousand years of culture, becomes even more complicated, and that is what Jo Gan writes about in her blog Love Behind the Wall. Completely frank and fearless, Gan writes about many taboo subjects, including sex and interracial marriage, from first hand experience. Jelena Kovacevic caught up with Jo and her husband Michael to learn the ins and outs of being an African-American and Chinese couple, and how they manage their relationship under the gaze of curious lookers-on.

Do you consider yourself a modern couple? MG: Yes, we are. First, Jo is from America and I am not. On top of that I am not from a low-level family I have an education. I dream that we will have a better quality life together. We are a global couple different from others in China.

JG: Of course we are! You cannot get any more modern than us. [laughs] An African-American woman married to a Chinese man who is considerably younger. That is what modern love is all about.

What is your favorite thing about being in mixed-cultural marriage? MG: When we talk, we speak English everyday. It gives me face and makes me feel special to know that we do something different from others. Speaking English every day has helped me improve a lot and opened up more opportunities for me.

JG: I guess my favorite thing would be the fact that everyone is so surprised about the fact that we actually exist. It is like we are breaking ground and traveling through uncharted territory. It is interesting to find out new little things about each other. When you come from two different cultures there is always something new you didn’t know or realize. We are always learning from each other. That keeps things interesting.

And what was the most surprising challenge you had to face? MG: Jo still has some American ways of thinking and I haven’t changed a lot of my traditional thinking. One big thing is that we are a little far away from my family, because she can’t speak Chinese very well. What I mean is that in a Chinese family usually the parents, grandparents, uncles, etc. will call the wife and tell her to tell the husband something, but in our case that doesn’t happen since they can’t speak English. So it makes us not as close as some Chinese families.

JG: I guess my biggest challenge is adjusting to living in a foreign country, and yes, dealing with family. I guess I did not realize just how much influence a traditional family has over a marriage or relationship. That takes a lot of getting used to, because I am a very independent person, and having them involved almost everything we do can be very challenging.

What was the hardest cross-cultural thing to get over? MG: I had to change my plans and goals for the future. Since I am married to an American, I need to learn more and work harder because I may move to America. So, I need to prepare for all those changes in my life. It is a lot more work than if I was just married to a Chinese girl. If I was married to a Chinese, life would be very simple and easy, and I wouldn’t have to worry about my future a much. I also can’t do the normal Chinese husband things, I need to change the way I do some things. The whole relationship makes up is different.

JG: I think for me the hardest to get over… or I am still getting over.. [laughs] is the fact that Chinese men kind of live different lives than the Chinese women. I don’t go for that. We do everything together as a couple, not as two single people who are married. So, when we meet other couples they tend to do things differently than us. They think it is kind of strange that we call each other during the day, kiss each other goodbye and goodnight, and go out together. Dealing with other people is the hardest thing, I think. They have so many questions and so much negativity that we have to kind of block it out.

What was your funniest miscommunication ever? MG: [laughs] I can’t remember! We have had so many… you answer this one.

JG: Wow… let me see… I guess it would be when he first told me his parents were coming to see me for the first time. He was with me all day, and then that night when we were going to bed, he just barely mentioned that his dad was coming in the morning to have lunch with us at our place. That was the first time I met any of his family, and I was not sure I understood him correctly. I had to repeat it four times to make sure that I understood that he had just told me that one of the most important days of our relationship was happening in six hours and I hadn’t even cleaned. I was not happy about that one.

MG:  Yeah, that was funny….[smiles]

 You live in a small city. How do you deal with all the extra attention you get?  MG: There is a Chinese expression. It translates into English like this “Walk your way, let others say.” It basically means just do what you do and ignore what they say about it. We just don’t pay any attention to them. Who cares if they watch us eat, walk down the street or whatever. We just live our lives.

JG: I have to agree with him. Sometimes it gets to me a little more than him though. He just always tells me to pretend they are invisible, or that they have a low education that is why they do what they do. I just have to always remember he is there and if he can ignore, it so can I.

Michael, have you ever considered blogging about how it feels being married to a foreign woman? What would you write? MG: No, never thought about it. I wouldn’t know how to do it. [smiles] I am not a writer, Jo is the one that writes in our family.

JG: Not only does he not write he doesn’t even read what I write. He tells me that he knows I would never say anything bad about him. He trusts me and he supports me in whatever I do. Although, I am always begging him to read my stuff, he always says he knows it is good and that he doesn’t need to read it.

Do you have any role models? What would you compare yourself to? MG: Actually, if you want me to be honest, there is no one. I want to just be my own role model. I feel I don’t need a role mode, l just do things my way and enjoy my life. I don’t need to follow the in the footsteps of others. I want to only follow my way and make my own steps. If I followed others I would never have met Jo. I do not compare myself to anyone.

JG: For me… I guess my role model would be my grandmother. She was always focused and determined to do things her way no matter what others said to her. She overcame many things during her lifetime, from the civil rights movement to just a difficult marriage, which she stayed in until the end. She was very wise, strong and independent. I only hope I can one day walk as strong and proud as she did. She never gave up on anything no matter how difficult. That is one reason why we haven’t just left China completely and moved to America. I can’t just give up that easy and go home.

 If you had to describe yourself in terms of food, how would you do it? MG: I don’t need beautiful food or food that stands out like French food. I would just be food that makes you full.  You know like fried green vegetables, some simple food. The food should be clean; not too busy or dirty. I am one healthy dish of vegetables with white rice on the side.

JG: I guess I am a little more high maintenance than that. I would be a Spanish paella, filled with all kinds of different flavors and smells. A nice mixture of seafood, vegetables, onions, spices and rice. Every time you taste it you get something you didn’t expect. [smiles] that is definitely me.

What’s a question no one has ever asked you before? MG: No one has ever asked me why I made the first move to talk to Jo. The answer to that would be because when I looked at her I felt she would be a woman I could love. I was right.

JG: I guess no one ever asked me why I choose to marry Michael instead of some other guy that was closer to my age and my nationality. My answer would be true love knows no age or nationality, and I saw something in him that others were too blind to see. Their loss is my treasure.


until next time….


27 thoughts on “Agenda Magazine interview

    1. Yeah… Michael doesnt like the spot light as much as I do….hehehe… so he basically says in the background and lets me do my thing. Although, he is pretty outgoing when he knows you.. he is still a bit shy in public…. like most chinese.

      1. Yes, Michael reminds me of a young man I was dating in the 80′ when I was traveling to Asia. He is Chinese.. He worked as a translator and travel guide for the buyers of my company. He was born and raised here in the US. We became very good friends and dated on a serious level for 2 years. We broke up because he relocated overseas for a better career. He asked me to come with him, but I couldn’t move with him at that time. Our break up was very hard for the both of us.

        Anyway, he found me again through Facebook around 4 months ago. He has moved back to the US, and we have been talking again. He will come to my area to be with me over the Thanksgiving holiday. I haven’t seen him in 17 years. I am a bit nervous to see him again… He was very good to me when we were together.

        You and Michael remind me a bit our relationship. I wish you guys the best of luck. As I always say, I love your BLOG. Please keep writting. Thank you

          1. Jo, yes, that is what its starting to feel like to me too. I guess that is why I am a bit nervous about seeing him again. He also mentioned he is thinking of moving back to the midwest where I am in (IL) He moved here from CA for 10 years after finished grad school…He now owns a successful business that all would allow him to live anyplace in the country.

            Your BLOG has been very insightful to me into the Chinese culture. I was doing research online and came across your BLOG. In the 80’s It was very very rare for a Asian man to be with a African American woman. I see that is still the case today to a degree..People use to stare at us here in the IL too, espeically when we went into a all black area. People use to say nasty things to us at times..

            It should be interesting when he comes here for a month to see me. Thank you..

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  2. sid

    Very beautiful deep culture indeed.
    I like always when you post. Everypart is like the travel channel yet i can actually write to you about how I enjoy your happenings. i look forward to more. ^-^

  3. I loved that interview. I noted that the questions were more about the difference in your nationalities and culture than specifically about the color of your skin. I love the pictures, you both are too cute together. Love is truly transcendent

  4. Gregory Young

    I’m glad you posted the interview! I can’t get my hands on a copy of Agenda at the moment. Your wedding pics are soo cute!

  5. I just realized that I had never read your “About Me” section, and I just did. I was surprised to learn where you were born. I am a St. Louis native and black.

    Your blog has provided valuable insight for me. I’ll tell you why.

    My husband, who is white, have been married for two years. I relocated to California when I married him.

    In a couple of weeks, we will travel to South Korea to teach. I think it will be a unique experience for an black American, plus-size woman. I just started a new blog, which will serve as a journal and discussion forum related to my experiences.

    I am not totally unfamiliar with Korean culture. My husband has a Korean daughter (adopted) and two adorable Korean grandchildren. However, this will be my first time traveling to the “Land of Morning Calm” and being totally immersed in the culture.

    Keep writing because I will continue to follow your blog while I’m in Korea!

  6. Wow! Great interview and great pictures! I love your husband’s attitude to the situation around him. Both of you are managing well and sticking close. I don’t think this marriage will need ‘luck’. Congrats!

  7. Beth

    Cute interview. It is nice to read about two individuals willing to lead the life they want and not be too affected by what others say. As a foreigner living in China, I know how that can be (but probably not as much as you do). You too seem fun to hang out with too- if you’re ever in Nanjing and bored, let me know 🙂

  8. Great article. Like you said, your husband isn’t really involved in this site, so it was interesting to hear his side of things. It was interesting that he said speaking english with you brought him face. When I am with my chinese friends, speaking english, I always feel like maybe they are a little embarrassed to be speaking english, and to have people looking at them because they are with a foreigner. But maybe they like it too?

    Anyway, interesting read!

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  10. Intriguing article on a fascinating couple. I think the biggest surprise for me is to learn that the two of you are not the same age. JG, you certainly *look* the same age as your husband! 🙂 He is lucky to have you. The two of you make a beautiful couple.

  11. Michelle

    I’ve been reading your blog for a while now and I love your posts. You and Michael are such a lovely couple and it’s obvious that you love each other very much. You’re such an inspiration to me.

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