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LAST WORDS: Measuring the Significance of a Multi-racial Marriage
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On 1 September, my fiancée Jenny and I exchanged marital vows and were officially wed here in Tianjin.  It was an average-sized ceremony which included all of Jenny's immediate and extended family as well as several of my family members from the US. The ceremony was conducted in Chinese but both of us spoke in English and Chinese at various times throughout.
 
The wedding planning served to highlight a few of what will certainly be more challenges in the future.  In retrospect, this experience can be viewed as a valuable learning tool for us as we learn to deal with the complexity of being a mixed-race couple that come from distinctly different cultures.  
 
Our marriage was unconventional in many respects. For instance, the family lunch the day before the wedding was the first time our parents met.  This isn't typical in any culture, but I don't think it's a stretch to say that this is generally unheard of in China, where the parent's role in granting approval to their son or daughter's future spouse is often decisive. The initial meeting between parents often determines whether the children and their families are a good match socially and financially and also determines the responsibility of the families in regards to the purchase of the future couple's automobile, house and furnishings as well as the financial burden of the wedding.  
 
Some of these questions didn't need answers since Jenny and I had already decided to pay for the wedding ourselves - we also decided we wouldn't follow the tradition of purchasing an apartment - simply because we haven't agreed if we prefer to establish our roots here in China or the US.
 
Lack of ability to communicate notwithstanding, the first meeting between the families went without a hitch. Things got off to a slow start until about forty minutes in when the baijiu started taking hold.  However, by the end of lunch it appeared good impressions had been made on both sides - Jenny and I felt confident that everyone would only become more comfortable with each other at the next day's ceremony. 
 
In many ways however, the luncheon was merely ritual - not to underestimate the importance of the meeting, but ultimately the outcome would have had little impact on the wedding. The wheels had long since been put in motion and it would have taken an unmitigated disaster to bring the wedding to a halt.  
 
We both know that our most pressing challenges will come after the wedding as we learn to maneuver through the myriad challenges faced by multi-racial couples.  Onlookers may often see an Anglo/Chinese couple and find it to be a cliche, particularly when a western male marries a Chinese female; but what mustn't be forgotten is that these couples actually have many more obstacles to overcome than same race couples. 
 
I've found in Jenny, a spouse unlike anyone I've ever met - she's intelligent, capable, warm and considerate almost to a fault. She has the demureness that western males often find attractive in Chinese girls, but can also be sarcastic and has no problem keeping up with me and my brothers when our humour gets a little salty. In me, perhaps she finds someone who is less superficial and has a more wide range of interests than what she might find in a typical Chinese suitor.
 
Our primary language when communicating to each other is English - my Chinese is only at an intermediate level on my best day but I can generally communicate - she was an English major at university and obviously possesses a strong command of the language. In spite of this, we sometimes run into communication problems which transcend language. There are times when we simply can't understand each other because the cultures in which we were raised are so vastly different. My ability to admit I'm wrong and her ability to forgive me have helped us to get past even our most explosive arguments, but we have realised that our future will hold many incidents of culture induced misunderstandings that other couples can't relate to.
 
In addition to navigating a path towards better communication, we also have more pragmatic matters to attend to.  Questions regarding where to save and invest our money, where to buy a home, where to start and raise a family and the pros and cons of Western versus Chinese educational systems can all be debated for countless hours. While weighing the advantages and disadvantages to these types of problems, we're often surprised to find ourselves arguing against our own native country - which only proves that the saying "The grass is always greener" is sometimes true.
 
Perhaps even weightier is the issue of care for our parents, years down the road, which only complicates the question of buying a home. The Chinese model for care of the elderly is much different than that in the US - I'm aware of the responsibility I bear to her parents once they've both retired and are unable to do so for themselves. How we would do this if we do in fact buy a home in the US is undetermined and also what will our role be in caring for my parents in years to come also must be considered.
 
Obviously, questions of home purchase, children, schools and family responsibility must be considered by every young couple, but the addition of geography and culture into these decisions makes them much more intricate. That's not to say that advantages don't present themselves. One could argue that we have a larger pool of information to draw from and more options available to us.  Our children, for instance, will have the opportunity to be immersed in full English or Chinese schooling during the course of their academic career and will likely be able to adapt to either quite well. Most parents would love to have the chance to expose their children to an opportunity like this.  
 
So now the months of preparation have concluded and the emotional high from the wedding is past, we begin our real journey together - one that will certainly have highs and lows and many difficult decisions - but a journey I'd like to take with no one else except my new wife, Jenny.


By Christopher Ribeiro 
 
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