Imagination Connoisseur, Jeffrey Mao, chimes in on the challenging relationship experiences shared by fellow PGS-member, Willow Yang in yesterday’s ROBSERVATIONS.

O High King of Verisimilitude and Sanctimonious One, Hear Me:

I read Willow’s letter and parts of it certainly resonated with me, so I wanted to weigh in. Our experiences are certainly different as we’re probably 20 years apart in age, and we grew up in different countries on different coasts. But many of the things she mentioned, specifically about parents being strict about not dating too early, and focusing on your studies is quite true.

Part of the reasons why is related to the very important concept of “face”. “Face” being loosely defined as honor, dignity, respectability. If you don’t have face then you have nothing.

The direct translation of the Chinese word for “shame” is “lose face”. You can lose face, but you can also gain it back. For Chinese immigrants living abroad, face is so much more important as their children are growing up in that country and live, play and go to school with the “laowai”, the Chinese word for the locals, literally meaning “old foreigners.”

Asian immigrant families in general, and Chinese in particular, instill a great importance in education because they feel that that is the only advantage that they have in a world where everything else is not in their favor, be it language, connections (another very important Chinese concept , called “guanxi”) and cultural familiarity. The last thing that the parents want is for their children, especially the girls, to be dating. The unspoken meaning is “Don’t mess around with those white boys, they’ll knock you up!” That attitude is, of course, quite paternalistic.

Sons, and particularly first sons, continue to be highly valued in traditional Asian cultures. When the first son marries, he and his wife are expected to live with his parents, and his wife to basically be their maid, cooking and cleaning and caring for them, in addition to the couple’s own children, while she still works outside the home. Bear in mind this doesn’t happen everywhere and in every situation but it is still certainly a thing.

I didn’t know much about this growing up, but after getting married to my wife and hearing about stories from her friends in Taiwan and their experiences, I now know why many Taiwanese/Chinese women over here marry outside their race. I think they “rebel” after failed attempts to get “setup” with a “nice boy” back home or the son of the parents’ friends. (Don’t get me wrong, this happens on the boys’ side as well). Problem being is that that setup comes with everything that I mentioned before. When faced with that, it’s no wonder that they look elsewhere, and I don’t blame them!

My wife and I have actually half-seriously said we wouldn’t want our daughter to marry a Taiwanese guy because of that! And to be honest now, I wouldn’t have a problem. Don’t get me wrong, I know that the issue with hapa (people with mixed Asian/Pacific Islander heritage) identity struggles is present in this country and among our many friends who have mixed kids I wonder how their lives will turn out as they grow up.

To Willow, I would say this. Keep positive and be yourself. You never know what fate has in store for you. I didn’t meet my wife until I was 36 years old. We got married a year later and our son was born a year after.

The great curse (among many) of life is that sometimes you get dealt a bad hand in your appearance. And short of modification surgery, there’s not much you can do to change your base appearance. You can certainly do something, like lose/gain weight, change your hair, improve your complexion, get vision corrective surgery, fix your teeth. Little things can go a long way, it just takes the confidence and conviction to do so.

Hope this was informative and helpful. Many of the things I have said here obviously are not to be taken as a blanket description for all Asian/Chinese immigrant situations. Regionally things may be quite different, as I’m sure in California it’s probably not like it is back East.

Well, thanks for reading, and see you in the Singularity,
 – Jeff M.