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….