Keeping Faith, Oceans Apart

In a cross-cultural marriage, inevitably there will be times spent away from each other, and family. But who’s to say that’s a bad thing? Being away from loved ones allows us to appreciate them.

As I sit down to write this month’s instalment, there are seagulls perching on my snow-covered windowsill and I can hear the faint sound of crashing waves below the cliff before me. It goes without saying that I am not in Dongguan.

While on a business trip back in the U.K., I am spending three weeks away from Faith who is still in China. Subsequently the topic for this article naturally dawned on me; in every cross-cultural marriage, you have to face the fact that there will be instances when you will spend time away from family, sometimes oceans apart.

Ask most Chinese parents the requirements for a son/daughter-in-law and generally at the top of the list is geography, a candidate from their hometown is immediately shortlisted. The reason being that keeping their adult children close at hand is a priority for many Chinese parents, perhaps also they feel they would have more control or influence in their adult child’s life if they stayed nearby. Should a Chinese man or woman first bring home a partner from some distant shore, behind the smile of the parent is fear and worry of what it means for their future, spouting the alarming question, will my child come home for Chinese New Year?

Ironically, marrying a foreign person means that Spring Festival is not a celebrated holiday for them and almost certainly ensures that the New Year will be spent with the parents-in-law at their home. Nevertheless, in this case, many Chinese parents fear that a foreign boyfriend isn’t serious about getting married, settling down or having children, and may leave their precious daughter with a broken heart.

I concluded it was something I couldn’t ask her to do, so I broke up with her. I left for Australia and had no contact with her for 12 long bleak months in the land of sunshine and surf.

Being away from Faith always reminds me of the year 2009, a couple of years before we got married. I had been in China for a few years at that point and was unsure whether my future lay there or in some other country. I had enrolled in a university course in Australia—at 21 I was too young to get married—I planned to be in Sydney for three years, with no plan to return to China. Faith had promised to wait for me, but a three-year wait with no guarantee of me returning was a substantial risk, and a lot to expect of anyone. I concluded it was something I couldn’t ask her to do, so I broke up with her. I left for Australia and had no contact with her for 12 long bleak months in the land of sunshine and surf.

There were many times during that year that I picked up my phone, only to stare at Faith’s name and wrestle with the idea that all I needed to do was push the green button to call. But things somehow seemed a lot more difficult than that sounds. Parallel to this, Faith had a friend who also had a foreign boyfriend leave China around the same time. Her friend waited for a few months but under tremendous pressure from her parents, married a local man.

It was at the end of my year of study that I decided that I had spent enough time studying and I wanted to get back into the real world. I booked a flight back to Guangzhou in order to get back to where my future was waiting for me. I remember sitting and packing my bags late one night, carefully placing my passport, wallet and a ring box in a separate container. I pulled out my phone and scrolled down to Faith’s name, and pushed the green button.