Family thoughts on my wife....

I’ve spoken ad nausea about what my inlaws think of me.   Now it’s my family’s turn to give their opinion of my Hangzhou Wife. 

I’ve been with my wife for 23 years.  She’s been very kind to my parents.(when in a good mood)  She calls my dad “dad”, and my mom “mom”.    She’s been patient towards them.  In short, my parents and my mom and dad get along well.  The “trick” is distance.    They live by plane about 90 minutes away.  We invite them over to our house once every couple of years, and make sure they only stay a few days.   Contrast this with my inlaws staying 3-6 months of the year(down from year long visits thank God).

The important thing is I am able to live without my parents.  The bond isn’t just there.   I do speak with my dad a lot, via a prepay phone that I got him, but I rarely speak to my mother.    If I was close to my parents would this effect my relationship with my wife?  If I was a momma’s boy?  


The fact that I’m neither of the above I believe helps our relationship a lot.    My wife is very domineering, as is my mother.   So I’d say the fact that I have a mediocre to average relationship with my parents in this sense probably has helped to make our marriage last longer.  

My mom is a bit unstable mentally.   She has a foul mouth and is constantly broke.    She has a terrible temper, and quite frankly, I’ve decided it’s best for my kids not to see my mother and I argue, so I just don’t invite her over.    

Below I will delve into what my family thinks of my Chinese wife.   They have their opinions.  However, the first thing that needs to be said is when I got engaged at 24 and married at 25, I did so without my parents advice, or consent.     I actually only asked a couple of people for advice, a couple of married students I knew in Hangzhou, and that was it.

In short, getting married at 25 was dumb.  It was pretty stupid.  The older I get the more I realize how I missed a father that wasn’t much of a mentor, or who himself felt it wasn’t important to be a mentor.  To my parents credit they never once opposed the marriage, either on racial grounds or anything else, and my wife was welcomed into the Household from Day One, unconditionally.   

I’m proud of that. 

I remember a classmate in college who straight up told me he would never date an Asian…well, because their Asian.  (boy has he missed out!)

Yet for some reason it’s always been my Dad’s philosophy to let me do what I want to do.  Not to say he hasn’t given my sound advice in the past…(“be a defensive driver”…..”choose your friends, don’t let them choose you”)

My parents should have opposed this Union, however.    (As I will with my daughters should they choose to marry so soon.) 

In a sense though, our choices were few.  Unlike today, where thousands of laowai live with their China gf’s in China, my wife and I never had that option.   But if we had, her parents would have vociferously opposed it.

As I mentioned, my wife and I never lived in my hometown.  If there is one thing that has been the key to our “success”, that has been it.   Whilst a Chinese daughter if in China would probably want to live near her parents, that is not necessarily a precondition in the West for us.    If we had lived in my hometown, with all my relatives(I have 15 cousins), I’m quite sure my wife would have gone insane. 

Bottom line is I was never really close to my parents, and that has shown.   Contrast this with my wife’s very real connection to her family.   Only recently has she stopped crying when her parents return home to China.  (I consider it a sign of maturity when she breathes a sigh of relief that they are gone)

Yes I was 8000 miles away at the time.  But I really feel he should’ve stood up and said something.   My wife and I both realize now we were too young to get married at the time, and we both laugh at it now.  But it would’ve helped to have been given a heads up as to the ups and downs of marriage.  

These are the main thoughts my family has had of my wife, developed over time. 

“Your wife has her arm stuck in the ATM machine.”

This is something my dad first said of my wife, and her penchant for holding money a little too close to her chest.   I thought it was funny he said that, and I still do.  However, with time, it’s worked out well.  My wife’s fascination with money is typical of Chinese.   This is a country where a greeting is still “have you eaten yet?”   But this fascination with money isn’t what it seems.   

Today’s fascination with money within Chinese society can be fairly said to be based on “greed”, at the expense of everyone else.   As I’ve said before, China is a ‘Zero Sum Society”.    There is no “we” in China anymore.    The sense of the “collective” or  大锅吃饭has gone.   A gain by one means a loss by somebody else.   China is more capitalist than America.   It is America circa 1910.    Child labor, robber barons, environmental rape, lax enforcement of regulations….etc. 

There is no tradition of philanthropy.    Today’s society is a rat race always with an eye toward the exit.  That is, leaving China.  Those that can, spend most of their time conniving to get as much as they can, and spend the balance of that time thinking of an “Exit Strategy”.    This is Modern China. 

However, it’s also a reflection of an old school insecurity, and this is more what my wife’s generation represents.    Her obsession of money is a reflection of what it is like to be not poor(My wife, if you’ve kept up with the posts, has never been “poor”, in the Chinese sense), but “insecure”.  IE, not knowing what the future will hold, but old enough to remember when everyone had a picture of Mao in their apartment. 

My dad’s comment was based on the fact that during the early part of our marriage he was able to ask for a loan, or something, and get it.   As were other relatives, and I quite frankly didn’t know how to say “no”, nor had that thought ever crossed my mind.  Seriously.

In the Chinese view, I’m a Phoenix Man.  One of those who come from humble circumstances and do well, and the family as such thus looks upon as a source of financial favors.   This was common enough.  Always busy taking care of “my” family, and not “our” family.

After a few years, in short, my wife put a stop to it.    The money outflow to the family stopped, or at a minimal greatly decreased.   At first I was unhappy with her cold and ruthless behavior.  Her attitude was uncalled for.    Later I realized she was right.   The loaning money to the family thing stopped.   In hindsight it was the right call.   Was the spigot completely shut off?  No.   But it’s been ages since I’ve had a relative ask me for anything.   In short, we gave proactively, not when asked to.  The only exception was my grandmother.

Push, Push, Push…

When I first left America, I wanted to be a lawyer.  Thank God that didn’t happen.  I wanted to be an int’l lawyer to be exact, and I’m not sure why?  I just figured that’s what all people with a BA in International Relations did.  That or join the Peace Corps(I was accepted if you recall).

At the age of 25 I had this Chinese proficiency burning in my pocket, not knowing what to do with it.  Make no mistake, my Chinese is eons better than it was then, but even than I rarely if ever came across anyone that could speak it as well as I could.(notice I said “speak”, and nothing else).

So I was a bit proud perhaps.   How to use my Mandarin?  P&G was just getting started in China, but I wasn’t keen to be selling tampons, or even shampoo.   So while we idled away in Tokyo, and I waited for my wife to get her fill(she never did),  I tried to figure out what my next steps would be. 

I thought about going back to my home state to be an American History Teacher.   And if I’d never married my wife, that’s probably what I would’ve done.   But I did marry her, and she would have none of it.  

People think teachers have high status in China.  They don’t.  Maybe a University Professor.   Not a local teacher.  Of any subject.   Pay is low.  Period.  No one teaching in China is making a mint.  Except the School Principal.   Teachers have very low status today.   Many of them are bitter at their lot, as China’s Prosperity passes them by. 

No, my wife wasn’t gonna have her husband be a teacher. 

So I decided on the next knee jerk option (law school, remember?), and decided to focus on my MBA.   I took that damn entrance exam thing 3 times.   My wife wouldn’t shut the fuck up.  Haranguing me for 2 years to study for the GMAT, and to take the exam, to better my life.  What I wanted to do really had nothing to do with it.  

By this time we were living in Hong Kong, and I was working in a factory in Shenzhen.  It was 1996.   It was before the “Handover” and Brits were everywhere in HKG.   While I was satisfied with making $36,000 per year I kept reading and observing all these British dudes coming over…bankers all…making triple my salary.  None of them spoke Mandarin.   What did they have I didn’t have?  An MBA.

Suddenly I was focused.  And motivated.   I again started to prepare for the exam.  Coming back from the factory at midnight and rising at 6am, to study, before having to go back again.    I finally got into biz school and left HKG in 98. 

My wife’s pushing me to take it to the next level has never been based on happiness or personal satisfaction.   Rather on practical means to prosperity.   Never mind what I wanted, she knew what I needed.  Like I said earlier, with those that grew up before the Rise of China, it’s always been not about the Journey, but the Destination.

(To this day I wonder what it would be like to be a simple History Teacher.  I’m sure my life experiences to date would make me a better teacher, for sure.  Maybe I’ll still have the chance.)

Your wife is too hard on the kids…..

Again, you’ve seen all the posts on this subject.   My family, my sister in particular, tends to think my wife’s focus on grades, and music lessons is overbearing. 

“Your kids have no life.”

“Grades aren’t everything!”

“Let your kids live a little!”

It’s attitudes like these that have created a whole swath of American society ripe for the picking.   Uneducated for the 21st century, armed with only a high school degree, maybe a year of college, people with a mindset such as above are perfect for the shale fields of North Dakota.  You’ll make a lot of money (for a high school grad)but never work in an office and probably never manage anyone.   

You will gain skills that are probably not even transferable beyond your industry.     Than the Indians move in, and the Chinese with their graduate degrees and just like that you have a large segment of America wondering how to use the “skills” they have. 

(oh the freedom to immigrate to America….kind of takes away the motivation of the American 
Company to “train” it’s workforce, doesn’t it?)

How focused is my wife on education?   My family sincerely believes my wife’s focus on Education is borderline parental abuse.

We once lived in a city where my oldest daughter, with an October birthday, missed the cutoff for the next grade.  So she was thus “held back” a year.  She missed the cutoff by one month.   This so incensed my wife that she packed our daughter off to California, (where the cut off is November), and enrolled her a grade ahead of what she was currently enrolled at in our own city.  Kept her there for a month, than brought her back home to live with us….and then enrolled her in a private school at the new grade!

I’ve found my wife’s focus on “being smart” both amusing and irritating. 

What to do?

My wife is very headstrong.  She’s since admitted a Chinese Man could never put up with her.  She’s dominating(to the point of even trying to decorate my office….”honey,  you can manage the 4750 sq ft that are not part of my ofc….ok?”)

The time she spends on arranging a daily summer schedule for the kids is admirable.   I’ve since come to the conclusion it is indeed better to keep the kids busy at all costs.  Even if it means math camp in July. 

My family doesn’t get it.  Never will.  It is indeed a cultural thing.   I come from a mentality where the State School is good enough.   My wife wants Harvard or Bust……I already know my kids won’t be going to Harvard, and quite frankly so does my wife.  But I kinda agree with her, they will be going to school out of state, and I’m already starting to worry about the tuition costs.
In the interim…until my kids do get to that top tier University, my family will always be thinking our kids are locked up in a dungeon somewhere, chained to a math book.

Your wife isn’t tough enough

Ironically, despite the above, my family very much doubts my wife’s mental toughness to make it in America.   They have a point.

If we lived in China, my wife would have it made:  she’d have an ayi to clean, and an ayi to cook.  She’d have a cushy job in some Japanese company.   The Japanese management would all fawn upon her.  Maybe she’d even have someone pick up and drop off our kids at school.

Or maybe my wife just wouldn’t work.

You see, until very recently, my wife hadn’t held a job for nearly 6 years.   In China, it’s a sign of face when your wife doesn’t have to work.   I agreed my wife not working was for awhile good for her morale.  She did most of the cooking and spent a lot of time with the kids school work.   It took her 5 years to get bored with this lifestyle however.   The long walks in the parks with her gossipy friends did no good.

Contrast this with my sister’s raising her kids by herself while holding a job, and you’ll understand why she thinks my wife is a wimp.  The biggest reason my inlaws are suddenly to my great shock back in America is because my wife now has a job.  

My wife needs a cook you see….and though she’s lived here for over a decade, she still isn’t used to American Cooking.

When I honestly tell my family her parents are back because my wife now has a job they breathe a collective gasp of “what?”

But maybe I shouldn’t have told them the stories of my wife crying when she takes her parents to the airport either….


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