I remember as a child in Kuching, my teacher Mrs. Wei remarked to me that ‘as an eurasian, you will either get the best of both worlds or the worst of both’. Though there have been times in my life where I felt neither here or there (Chinese or European?!), for the most part I’ve been blessed to enjoy living in both Asian & Western society. To be honest though, I’ve actually never really dated out of my comfort zones. My type of guy has always been either Chinese, Eurasian or Caucasian. Which led me to wonder – how did my parents unite and overcome differences between their cultures? Well, perhaps its true that ‘love conquers all’.
My mother is a full-blooded Italian (if you met her you would know) who grew up in New Zealand. My father, who hails from Kuching in Sarawak, is as Chinese as they come. As fate would have it, he went to university in NZ and met her there upon graduation. After a two year courtship, dad managed to convince mum to marry him and move back to Sarawak with him. Now, as a Kuching girl myself, I know all too well that even when I was a kid in the 80s – it was a pretty quiet place. So if you can imagine in the 70s… it was definitely not as ‘happening’ as my mother envisioned!
So who better to interview about cross cultural marriage than my own parents?
How did you guys end up meeting?
M: We met in New Zealand through one of my neighbours, after Francis had finished his studies.
Dad, how did you know Mum was meant to be your wife?
D: It just happened. Apparently love at first sight.
Was it difficult understanding one another since Dad is so traditional and Mum quite the Italian?
M: Well, when we were young we faced these challenges together and we adapted as much as we could.
D: When I was growing up, I was brought up to respect my parents and tried to help whenever possible. When my mum and dad asked me to do something, I always obliged if it was feasible. Mum being Italian always thought that I was scared of my parents. However, my motto was to keep the peace if no harm was done.
M: Although, Dad did stand his ground on certain things like keeping his hair long (it was the 70s) and marrying me, a westerner.
Where did you get married?
M: We were married in January 1976 at St Joseph’s Catholic church in Kuching. Our priest was Father Su, who is now Bishop Su.
What was the wedding like?
M: We had a small wedding at the church in the morning. Later on we had a chinese tea ceremony at Francis’s family house, where we held these candles and bowed to one another. The candles were placed in a small altar and as they burned they curved towards each other, which was a very good sign according to chinese beliefs.
Were your families happy about your marriage?
M: It was a bit hard at first. Dad comes from a big, traditional family where the eldest son had just married an Australian lady. Dad was the second son to marry and had chosen to marry me – a New Zealander. However, the candles forming towards one another was a good signed which helped. Also, when Francis’ s mother went to the temple they said he had married the right woman.
What about your side of the family Mum?
M: My mother loved Francis from the very beginning, she regarded him as a son. Of course she was not that happy that I was leaving New Zealand, as my dad had only passed away two years before. However, she had many trips to Malaysia and loved it – especially the people, food and shopping.
Since it was your first time in Asia – was it overwhelming and hard to adjust?
M: Yes, it was difficult at first, as I was unable to work because of the language barriers and found the heat of the tropics exhausting. In time, I made friends and kept busy with various activities. In New Zealand when we were dating we went to nightclubs and enjoyed dancing. But when I arrived in Kuching and wanted to go to the nightclubs, they were of a different kind where you would hire a hostess for an hour to drink and dance with you… so naturally, that was the end of going out for us! Instead, we went to movies at least 4 times a week then went on to have these wonderful suppers, sometimes eating a dozen prawns at 11 pm.
After marrying, did you find yourselves more influenced by eachother’s culture?
D: Ate more western food.
Would you want your own children to marry different cultures? What’s the secret to your long marriage!
M: It would be up to them, as long as they love and respect one another and take the time to make sure it would be a long-term commitment. Hahaha, secret? Well, there has never been a divorce on my Italian side of the family and neither has there been one on Francis’s side. Of course we have our moments of discontent but we have to move on and accept that some problems will never be solved, and agree to disagree. We are fortunate that our children have graduated, are building their own careers and are able to embrace both cultures.